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comma^er of the russian 
women's battalion of death 



Author of "The Russian RewluHon 

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Copyright, 1918, 1919, by 
Maria Botch kabeva 

Copyrighi, igig, by 
Fredesick a. Stokes Compant 

AU Rights Reserved 





Part One— YOUTH 


Introduction vii 

I. My Childhood of Toil 3 

11. Married at Fifteen 15 

III. A Little Happiness 27 

IV. Snared by a Libertine Governor .... 45 
V. Escape from Exile and Yasha 58 

Part Two— WAR 

VI. I Enlist by the Grace of the Tsar ... 71 

VII. Introduced to No Man's Land 86 

VIII. Wounded and Paralyzed 103 

IX. Eight Hours in German Hands 123 


X. The Revolution at the Front . . . 
f XI. I Organize the Battalion of Death . 
; XII. My Fight Against Committee Rule 

XIII. The Battalion at the Front . . . 

XIV. An Errand from Kerensky to Kornilov 
2^ " XV. The Army Becomes a Savage Mob . . 




H Part Four— TERROR 

XVI. Bolshevism on Top 251 

XVII. Facing Leninb and Trotzky 264 

XVIII. Caught in a Bolshevik Death-Trap . . . 282 

^ XIX. Saved by a Miracle 299 

^ XX. Bearing a Message from My People . . • 3 14 

%.. ' ■ 'V-*V 


T N the early summer of 19 17 the world was thrilled by 
■'" a news item from Petrograd announcing the forma- 
tion by one Mul^ Botchkareva of a women's fighting unit 
under the name of "The Battalion of Death." With this 
announcement an obscure Russian peasant girl made her 
debut in the international hall of fame. From the depths 
of dark Russia Maria Botchkareva suddenly emerged into 
the limelight of modem publicity. Foreign correspond- 
ents sought her, photographers followed her, distin- 
guished visitors paid their respects to her. All tried to 
interpret this arresting personality. The result was a 
riot of misinformation and misunderstanding. 

Of the numerous published tales about, and interviews 
with, Botchkareva that have come under my observation, 
there is hardly one which does not contain some false or 
misleading statement. This is partly due to the deplor- 
able fact that the foreign journalists who interpreted Rus- 
sian men and affairs to the world during the momentous 
year of 19 17 were, with very few exceptions, ignorant 
of the Russian language ; and partly to Botchkareva's re- 
luctance to take every adventurous stranger into her con- 
fidence. It was her cherished dream to have a complete 
record of her life incorporated in a book some day. This' 
work is the realization of that dream. 

To a very considerable extent, therefore, the narrative 
here unfolded is of the nature of a confession. When in 
the United States in the summer of 19 18, Botchkareva 
determined to prepare her autobiography. Had she been 
educated enough to be able to write a letter fluently, she 



would probably have written her own life-story in Rus- 
sian and then had it translated into English. Being semi- 
illiterate, she found it necessary to secure the services of 
a writer commanding a knowledge of her native language, 
which is the only tongue she speaks. The procedure fol- 
lowed in the writing of this book was this : Botchkareva 
recited to me in Russian the story of her life, and I 
recorded it in English in longhand, making every effort 
to set down her narrative verbatim. Not infrequently I 
would interrupt her with a question intended to draw out 
some forgotten experiences. However, one of Botch- 
kareva's natural gifts is an extraordinary memory. It 
took nearly a hundred hours, distributed over a period 
of three weeks, for her to tell me every detail of her ro- 
mantic life. 

At our first session Botchkareva made it clear that what 
she was going to tell me would be very different from the 
yarns credited to her in the press. She would reveal her 
innermost self and break open for the first time the sealed 
book of her past. This she did, and in doing so ruined 
completely several widely circulated tales about her. Per- 
haps the chief of these is the statement that Botchkareva 
had enlisted as a soldier and gone to war to avenge her 
fallen husband. Whether this invention was the product 
of her own mind or was attributed to her originally by 
some prolific correspondent, I do not know. In any 
event it was a handy answer to the eternal question of the 
' pestiferous journalists as to how she came to be a soldier. 
Unable to explain to the conventional world that profound 
impulse which really drove her to her remarkable destiny, 
she adopted this excuse until she had an opportunity to 
record the full story of her daring life. 

This book will also remove that distrustful attitude 
based on misunderstanding that has been manifested to- 
ward Botchkareva in radical circles. When she arrived 


in the United States she was immediately hailed as a 
"rnnn > pr-"rpvnT7i fi on a ry / * royalist and sinistCT intrigucT by 
the ejdxemists^ That was a grave injustice to her. She 
is ignorant of politics, contemptuous of intrigue, and 
spiritually far and above party strife. Her mission in life 
was to free Russia from the German yoke. 

Being placed virtually in the position of a father con- 
fessor, it was my privilege to commune with the spirit 
of this phenomenal rustic, a privilege I shall ever esteem 
as priceless. She not only laid bare before me every de- 
tail of her amazing life that memory could resurrect, but 
also allowed me to explore the nooks and corners of her 
heart to a degree that no friend of hers ever did. Main- 
taining a critical attitude from the beginning of our asso- 
ciation, I was gradually overwhelmed by the largeness of 
her soul. 

Wherein does the greatness of Botchkareva lie ? Mrs. 
Emmeline Pankhurst called her the greatest woman of 
the century. "The woman that saved France was Joan 
of Arc — a peasant girl," wrote a correspondent in July, 
1917; "Maria Botchkareva is her modern parallel." In- 
deed, in the annals of history since the days of the Maid 
of Orleans we encounter no feminine figure equal to Botch- 
kareva. Like Joan of Arc, this Russian peasant girl dedi- 
cated her life to her country's cause. If Botchkareva 
failed — and this is yet problematical, for who will dare 
forecast the future of Russia? — it would not lessen her 
greatness. Success in our materialistic age is no measure 
of true genius. 

Like Joan of Arc, Botchkareva is the symbol of her 
country. Can there be a more striking incarnation of 
France than that conveyed by the image of Joan of Arc? 
Botc hkareva is an astounding typification of peasant Rus- 
sia» with all her virtues and vices. Educated to the extent 
of being able to scribble her own name with difficulty, she 


is endowed with the genius of logic. Ignorant of history 
and literature, the natural lucidity of her mind is such as 
to lead her directly to the very few fundamental truths 
of life. Religious with all the fervor of her primitive 
soul, she is tolerant in a fashion behooving a philosopher. 
Devoted to her country with every fiber of her being, she 
is free of impassioned partisanship and selfish patriotism. 
Overflowing with gentility and kindness, she is yet capable 
of savage outbursts and brutal acts. Credulous and trust- 
ful as a child, she can be easily incited against people and 
things. Intrepid and rash as a fighter, her desire to live 
on occasions was indescribably pathetic. In a word, 
Botchkareva embodies all those paradoxical characteristics 
of Russian nature that have made Russia a puzzle to the 
world. / These traits are illustrated almost in every page 
of this book. Take away from Russia the veneer of 
western civilization and you behold her incarnation in 
Botchkareva. Know Botchkareva and you shall know 
Russia, that inchoate, invincible, agonized, striving, rising 
colossus in all its depth and breadth. 

It must be made unmistakably clear here that the mo- 
tives responsible for this book were purely personal. In 
its origin this work is exclusively a human document, a 
record of an exuberant life. It was the purpose of Botch- 
kareva and the writer to keep the narrative down to a 
strict recital of facts. It is really incidental that this rec- 
ord is valuable not only as a biography of a startling per- 
sonality, but as a revelation of certain phases of a mo- 
mentous period in human history; not only as a human 
document, but as a historical document as well. Because 
Botchkareva always has been and still is strictly non-parti- 
san and because she does not pretend to pass judgment 
upon events and men, her revelations are of prime im- 
portance. The reader gets a picture of Kerensky in ac- 
tion that completely effaces all that has hitherto been said 


of this tragic but typical product of the Russian intelli" 
genista. Kornilov, Rodzianko, Lenine and Trotzky and 
some other outstanding personalities of the Russian revo- 
lution appear in these pages exactly as they are in reality. 

Not a single book, as far as I know, has appeared yet 
giving an account of how the Russian army at the front 
reacted to the Revolution. What was the state of mind 
of the Russian soldier In the trenches, which was after all 
the decisive factor in the developments that followed, 
during the first eight months of 19 17? No history of 
unshackled Russia will be complete without an answer to 
this vital question. This book is the first to disclose the 
reactions and emotions of the vast Russian army at the 
front to the tremendous issues of the revolution, and is of 
especial value commg from a veteran peasant soldier 
of the rank and file. 

Perhaps surpassing all else In interest Is the horrible 
picture we get of Bolshevism in action. With the claims 
of theoretical Bolshevism to establish an order of social 
equality on earth Botchkareva has no quarrel. She said so 
to Lenine and Trotzky personally. But then come her 
experiences with Bolshevism in practice, and there follows 
a blood-freezing narrative of the rule of mobocracy that 
will live forever In the memory of the reader. 

Botchkareva left the United States towards the end of 
July, 19 1 8, after having attained the purpose of her visit 
— an interview with President Wilson. She went to Eng- 
land and thence to Archangel, where she arrived early in 
September. According to a newspaper despatch, she 
caused the following proclamation to be posted in village 
squares and country churches : 

"I am a Russian peasant and soldier. At t;he request 
of the soldiers and peasants I went to America and Great 
Britain to ask these countries for military help for Rus- 


"The Allies understand our own misfortunes and I re- 
turn with the Allied armies, which came only for the pur- 
pose of helping to drive out our deadly enemies, the Ger- 
mans, and not to interfere with our internal affairs. After 
the war is over the Allied troops will leave Russian soil. 

"I, on my own part, request all loyal free sons of Rus» 
sia, without reference to party, to come together, acting 
as one with the Allied forces, who, under the Russian flag, 
come to free Russia from the German yoke and in order 
to help the new free Russian army with all forces, includ- 
ing Russia, to beat the enemy. 

"Soldiers and peasants! Remember that only a full, 
clean sweep of the Germans from our soil can give you the 
free Russia you long for." 

Isaac Don Levine 
New York City, 
November, 191 8. 





MY father, Leonti Semenovitch Frolkov, was born 
into serfdom at Nikolsko, a village in the province 
of Novgorod, some three hundred versts* north of Mos- 
cow. He was fifteen when Alexander II emancipated 
the serfs in 1861, and remembers that historic event viv- 
idly, being fond even now of telling of the days of his 
boyhood. Impressed into the army in the early seventies, 
he served during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, and 
distinguished himself for bravery, receiving several med- 
als. When a soldier he learned to read and write, and 
was promoted to the rank of sergeant. 

Returning home at the end of the war, he passed 
through Tcharanda, a fishermen's settlement on the shore 
of a lake, in the county of Kirilov, within forty versts of 
Nikolsko. No longer dressed as a moujik, military in 
gait and bearing, with coins jingling in his pocket, he cut 
quite a figure in the poor hamlet of Tcharanda. There 
he met my mother, Olga, the eldest daughter of Elizar 
Nazarev, perhaps the most destitute dweller of the place. 

Elizar, with his wife and three daughters, occupied a 
shabby hut on the sandy shore of the lake. So poor was 
he that he could not afford to buy a horse to carry his 

*i# verst is about two-thirds of a mile, 




catch to the city, and was compelled to sell it, far below 
the market price, to a traveling buyer. The income 
thus derived was not sufficient to keep the family from 
hunger. Bread was always a luxury in the little cabin. 
The soil was not tillable. Elizar's wife would hire her- 
self to the more prosperous peasants in the vicinity for 
ten kopecks'^ a day to labor from sunrise to sunset But 
even this additional money was not always to be had. 
Then Olga would be sent out to beg for bread in the neigh- 
boring villages. 

Once, when scarcely ten years old, little Olga under- 
went a harrowing experience, which she could never later 
recall without horror. Starting home with a basketful 
of bread, collected from several villages, she was fatigued 
but happy at the success of her errand, and hurried as 
fast as she could. Her path lay through a forest. Sud- 
denly she heard the howling of a pack of wolves. Olga's 
heart almost stopped beating. The dreadful sounds 
drew nearer. Overcome by fright, she fell unconscious 
to the ground. 

When she regained her senses, she found herself alone. 
The wolves apparently had sniffed her prostrate body and 
gone their way. Her basket of bread was scattered in 
all directions, trampled in the mud. Out of breath, and 
without her precious burden, she arrived home. 

It was in such circumstances that my mother grew to be 
nineteen, when she attracted the attention of Leonti Frol- 
kov, who was then stopping in Tcharanda on his way home 
from the war. She was immensely flattered when he 
courted her. He even bought her a pair of shoes for a 
present, the first shoes she had ever worn. This capti- 
vated the humble Olga completely. She joyously ac- 
cepted his marriage proposal. 

After the wedding the young couple moved to Nikol- 

*i# kopeck u normally half a cent 


sko, my father^s birthplace, where he had Inherited a 
small tract of land. They tilled it together, and with 
great difficulty managed to make ends meet. My two 
elder sisters, Arina and Shura, were born here, increas- 
ing the poverty of my parents. My father, about this 
! time, took to drinking, and began to maltreat and beat 
his wife. He was by nature morose and egotistic. Want 
was now making him cruel. My mother*s life with him 
became one of misery. She was constantly in tears, al- 
ways pleading for mercy and praying to God. 

I was born in July, 1889, the third girl in the family. 

At that time many railroads were being built throughout 

the country. When I was a year old, my father, who 

had once been stationed at Tsarskoye Selo, the Tsar's 

residence town near the capital, decided to go to Petro- 

grad to seek work. We were left without money. He 

[ wrote no letters. On the brink of starvation, my mother 

[ somehow contrived, with the aid of kind neighbors, to 

j keep herself and her children alive. 

I When I was nearly six years old a letter came from 

. father, the first he had written us during the five years 

of his absence. He had broken his right leg and, as soon 

as he was able to travel, had started home. My mother 

wept bitterly at the news, but was glad to hear from father 

whom she had almost given up for dead. In spite of his 

harshness toward her, she still loved him. I remember 

how happy my mother was when father arrived, but this 

happiness did not last long. Poverty and misery cut it 

short. My father's rigid nature asserted itself again. 

Hardly had a year gone by when a fourth child, also a 

girl, arrived in our family. And there was no bread 

in the house. 

From all parts of our section of the country peasants 
were migrating that year to Siberia, where the Govern- 
ment allowed them large grants of land. My father 


wanted to go, but mother was opposed to it. However, 
when our neighbor, Verevkin, who had left some time 
previous for Siberia, wrote glowingly of the new country, 
my father made up his mind to go, too. 

Most of the men would go alone, obtain grants of land, 
till them, build homesteads, and then return for their 
families. Those of the peasants who took their families 
with them had enough money to tide them over. But 
we were so poor that by the time we got to Tcheliabinsk, 
the last terminal in European Russia, and the Govern- 
ment distribution point, we had not a penny left. At the 
station my father obtained some hot water to make tea, 
while my two elder sisters were sent to beg for bread. 

We were assigned to Kuskovo, a hundred and twenty 
versts beyond Tomsk. At every station my sisters would 
beg food, while father filled our tea-kettle with hot 
w:ater. Thus we got along till Tomsk was reached. Our 
grant of land was in the midst of the taiga, the virgin 
Siberian forest. There could be no thought of imme- 
diately settling on it, so my father remained in Tomsk, 
while the rest of us were sent on to Kuskovo. My sis- 
ters went to work for board and clothing. My mother, 
still strong and in good health, baked bread for a living, 
while I took care of the baby. 

One day my mother was expecting visitors. She had 
baked some cakes and bought half a pint of vodka, which 
she put on the shelf. While she was at work I tried to lull 
the baby to sleep. But baby was restless, crying inces- 
santly. I did not know how to calm her. Then my 
eyes fell on the bottle of vodka. 

"It must be a very good thing," I thought, and de- 
cided to give a glass to baby. Before doing so I tasted 
it myself. It was bitter, but I somehow wanted more. 
I drank the first cup and, the bitterness having some- 
what worn off, I drained another. In this manner I dis- 


posed of the entire bottle. Drowsy and weak, I took the 
baby into my arms and tried to rock it to sleep. But I 
myself began to stagger, and fell with the child to the 

Our mother found us there, screaming at the top of our 
voices. Presently the visitors arrived, and my mother 
reached for the bottle, only to discover that it had been 
emptied. It did not take her long to find the culprit. 
I shall always remember the whipping I got on that occa- 

Toward winter father arrived from Tomsk. He 
brought little money with him. The winter was severe, 
and epidemics were raging in the country. We fell sick 
one by one, father, mother, then all the girls. As there 
was no bread in the house, and no money to buy any- 
thing, the community took care of us till spring, housing 
and feeding us. By some miracle all of us escaped 
death, but our clothes had become rags. Our shoes fell to 
pieces. My parents decided to move to Tomsk, where 
we arrived barefoot and tattered, finding shelter at a 
poor inn on the outskirts of the town. 

My father would work only a couple of days a week. 
He was lazy. The remainder of the week he idled away 
and drank. My sisters served as nurse-maids, while 
mother worked in a bakery, keeping the baby and me 
with her. We slept in the loft of a stable, with the 
horses stamping below us. Our bed was of straw, laid 
on the floor, which consisted of unshaven planks thrown 
across logs. Soon the baker's wife began to object to 
feeding an extra mouth, which belonged to me. I was 
then over eight years old. 

"Why don*t you send her to work? She can earn her 
own bread," she argued. 

My mother would draw me to her breast, weep and 


beg for mercy. But the proprietress became impatient, 
threatening to throw us all out. 

Finally father came to see us, with the good tidings 
that he had found a place for me. I was to care for a 
five-year-old boy, in return for my board and eighty-five 
kopecks a mondi. 

"If you do well," my father added, "you will by and 
by receive a ruble." 

Such was the beginning of my career in life. I was 
eight and a half years old, small and very thin. I had 
never before left my mother's side, and both of us wept 
bitterly at parting. It was a gray, painful, incompre- 
hensible world into which I was being led by my father. 
My view of it was further blurred by a stream of tears. 

I took care of the little boy for several days. One 
afternoon, while amusing him by making figures in the 
sand, I myself became so engrossed in the game that I 
quarreled with my charge, which led to a fight. I re- 
member feeling keenly that I was in the right. But the 
child's mother did not inquire into the matter. She heard 
his screams and spanked me for it. 

I was deeply hurt by the undeserved spanking adminis- 
tered by a strange woman. 

"Where was my mother? Why did not she come to 
avenge me?" 

My mother did not answer my cries. Nobody did. 
I felt miserable. How wrong was the world, how un- 
just 1 It was not worth while living in such a world. 

My feet were bare. My dress was all in rags. No- 
body seemed to care for me. I was all alone, without 
friends, and nobody knew of the yearning in my heart. 
I would drown myself, I thought. Yes, I would run to 
the river and drown myself. Then I would go up, free 
of all pain, into the arms of God. 

I resolved to slip out at the first chance and jump into 


the river, but before the opportunity presented itself my 
father called. He found me all in tears. 

"What's the matter, Manka?" he asked. 

"I am going to drown myself, papa,'* I answered 

"Great Heavens I What's happened, you foolish 

I then poured my heart out to him, begging to be taken 
to mother. He caressed me and talked of mother's dis- 
tress if I left my place. He promised to buy me a pair 
of shoes, and I remained. 

But I did not stay long. The little boy, having seen 
his mother punish me, began to take advantage of me, 
making my life quite unbearable. Finally I ran away and 
wandered about town till dark, looking for my mother. 
It was late when a policeman picked me up crying in the 
street and carried me to the police-station. The officer 
in charge of the station took me to his home for the night. 

His house was rather large. I had never been in 
such a house before. When I awoke in the morning it 
seemed to me that there were a great many doors in it 
and all of them aroused my curiosity. I desired to know 
what was behind them. As I opened one of the doors, 
I beheld the police-officer asleep on a bed, with a pistol 
alongside of him. I wanted to beat a hasty retreat, but 
he awoke. He seized the pistol and, still dazed from 
sleep, threatened me with it. Frightened, I ran out of 
the room. 

My father, meanwhile, had been informed of my flight 
and had gone to the police-station in search of me. He 
was referred to the police-officer's home. There he 
found me, weeping on the porch, an3 took me to my 

My parents then decided to establish a home. All their 
capital amounted to six rubles. They rented a basement 


for three rubles a month. Two rubles my father in- 
vested in some second-hand furniture, consisting of a 
lame table and benches, and a few kitchen utensils. With 
a few kopecks from the last ruble in her purse my mother 
prepared some food for us. She sent me to buy a ko- 
peck's worth of salt. 

The grocery store of the street was owned by a Jewess, 
named Nastasia Leontievna Fuchsman. She looked at 
me closely when I entered her store, recognizing that I 
was a stranger in the street, and asked me : 

"Whose are you?" 

**I am of the Frolkovs. We just moved into the base- 
ment in the next block.*' 

**I need a little girl to help me out. Would you like 
to work for me?" she asked. "I'll give you a ruble a 
month, and board." 

I was overjoyed and started for home at such speed that 
by the time I got to my mother I was quite breathless. I 
told her of the offer from the grocery-woman.* 

"But," I added, "she is a Jewess." 

tliad heard so many things of Jews that I was rather 
afraid, on second thought, to live imdcr the same roof 
with a Jewess. My mother calmed my fears on that 
score and went to the grocery to have a talk with the 
proprietress. She came back satisfied, and I entered upon 
my apprenticeship to Nastasia Leontievna. 

It was not an easy life. I learned to wait on custom- 
ers, to run errands, to do everything in the house, from 
cooking and sewing to scrubbing floors. All day I slaved 
without rest, and at night I slept on a box in the passage- 
way between the store and house. My monthly earnings 
went to my mother, but they never sufficed to drive the 
specter of starvation away frpm my home. My father 
earned little but drank much, and developed his severe 
temper even more. 


In time I got a raise to two rubles a month. But as 
I grew I required more clothes, which my mother had 
to supply me from my allowance. Nastasia Leontievna 
was exacting and not infrequently punished me. But she 
also loved me as though I had been her own daughter, 
and always tried to make up for harsh treatment. I owe 
a great deal to her, as she taught me to do almost every- 
thing, both in her business and in housework. 

I must have been about eleven when, in a fit of temper, 
I quarreled with Nastasia Leontievna. Her brother fre- 
quented the theater and constantly talked of it. I never 
quite understood what a theater was like, but it allured 
me, and I resolved one evening to get acquainted with 
that place of wonders. I asked Nastasia Leontievna for 
money to go there. She refused. 

"You little moujitchka* what do you want with the 
theater?" she asked derisively. 

"You d d Jewess 1" I threw into her face fitfully, 

and ran out of the store. I went to my mother and told 
her of the incident. She was horrified. 

"But now she won't take you back. What will we do 
without your wages, Marusia? How will we pay the 
rent? We will have to go begging again." And she 

After some time my employer came after me, rebuk- 
ing me for my quick temper. 

"How could I have known that you were so anxious 
to go to the theater?" she asked. "All right, I'll give 
you fifteen kopecks every Sunday so that you can go." 

I became a steady Sunday attendant of the gallery, 
watching with intense interest the players, their strange 
gestures and manners of speech. 

Five years I worked for Nastasia Leontievna, assum- 
ing greater duties with the advance of my years. Early 

^A peasant woman. 


in the morning I would rise, open the shutters, knead the 
dough, and sweep or scrub the floors. I finally grew 
weary of this daily grind and began to think of finding 
other work. But my mother was sick and father worked 
less and less, drinking most of the time. He grew more 
brutal, beating us all unmercifully. My sisters were 
forced to stay away from home. Shura married at six- 
teen, and I, fourteen years old, became the mainstay of 
the family. It was often necessary to get my pay in 
advance in order to keep the family from starving. 

The temptation to steal came to me suddenly one day. 
I had never stolen anything before, and Nastasia Leon- 
tievna repeatedly pointed out this virtue in me to her 

"Here is a moujitchka who doesn't steal," she would 
say. But one time, on unpacking a barrel of sugar deliv- 
ered at the store, I found, instead of the usual six sugar- 
loaves, seven. The impulse to take the extra loaf of su- 
gar was irresistible. At night I smuggled it stealthily 
out of the store and took it home. My father was as- 

"What liave you done, Marusia? Take it back im- 
mediately," he ordered. I began to cry and said that 
the sugar was not really Nastasia Leontievna's, that the 
error had been made at the refinery. Then my father 
consented to keep it. 

I returned to my place at the grocery and went to bed, 
but my eyes would not close ; my conscience troubled me. 
"What if she suspected that a loaf of sugar was missing? 
What if she discovers that I have stolen it?" And a 
feeling of shame came over me. The following day I 
could not look straight into Nastasia Leontievna's eyes. 
I felt guilty. My face burned. At every motion of hers 
my heart quivered in anticipation of the terrible disclos- 


ure. Finally she noticed that there was something the 
matter with me. 

"What's wrong with you Marusia?" she questioned 
drawing me close to her. "Are you not well?" 

This hurt even more. The burden of the sin I had 
committed weighed heavier and heavier. It rapidly be- 
came unbearable. My conscience would not be quieted. 
At the end of a couple of restless days and sleepless 
nights I decided to confess. I went into Nastasia Leon- 
tievna's bedroom when she was asleep. Rushing to her 
bed, I fell on my knees and broke into sobs. She awoke 
in alarm. 

"What's happened, child? What is it?" 

Weeping, I proceeded to tell the story of my theft, 
begging forgiveness and promising never to steal again. 
Nastasia Leontievna calmed me and sent me back to bed, 
but she could not forgive my parents. Next morning she 
visited our home, remonstrating with my father for his 
failure to return the sugar and punish me. The shame 
and humiliation of my parents knew no bounds. 

Sundays I spent at home, helping my mother in the 
house. I would go to the well, which was * considerable 
distance away, for water. My mother baked bread all 
week and father carried it to the market, selling it at ten 
kopecks a loaf. His temper was steadily getting worse, 
and it was not unusual for me to find mother in the yard 
in tears after father's return in an intoxicated state. 

I reached the age of fifteen and began to grow dissatis- 
fied with my lot. Life was awakening within me and quick- 
ening my imagination. Everything that passed by and be- 
yond the confined little realm in which I lived and labored 
called me, beckoned to me, lured me. ^ The impressions 
of that foreign world which I had caught in the theater 
implanted themselves in my soul deeply and gave birth 
there to love-stirring forces. I wanted to dress nicely, 


to go out, to enjoy life's pleasures. I wanted to be edu- 
cated. I wanted to have enough money to secure my par- 
ents forever from starvation and to be able to lead for a 
time, for a day even, an idle life, without having to rise 
with the sun, to scrub the floor or to wash clothes. 

Ahl what would I not have given to taste the sweet- 
ness, the joy, that life held. But there seemed to be 
none for me. All day long I slaved in the little store 
and kitchen. I never had a spare ruble. Something 
revolted within me against this bleak, purposeless, fu- 
tureless existence. 



CAME the Russo-Japanese War. And with it, Si- 
beria, from Tomsk to Manchuria, teemed with a 
new life. It reached even our street, hitherto so lifeless 
and uneventful. Two officers, the brothers Lazov, one 
of them married, rented the quarters opposite Nastasia 
Lcontievna's grocery. The young Madame Lazov knew 
nothing of housekeeping. She observed me at work in 
the grocery store, and offered me service in her home at 
seven rubles a month. 

Seven rubles a month was so attractive a sum that I 
immediately accepted the offer. What could one not 
do with so much money? Why, that would leave four 
rubles for me, after the payment of mother's rent. Four 
rubles I Enough to buy a new dress, a coat, or a pair of 
those modish shoes. Besides, it gave me an opportunity 
to release myself from the bondage of Nastasia Leon- 

I took entire charge of the housekeeping at the Lazovs. 
They were kind and courteous, and took an interest in me. 
They taught me table and social etiquette, and took care 
that I appeared neat and clean. 

The younger Lazov, Lieutenant Vasili, began to notice 
me, and one evening invited me to take a walk with him, 
In time Vasili's interest in me deepened. We went out 
together many times. He made love to me, caressing and 
kissing me. Did I realize clearly the meaning of it all? 
Hardly. It was all so new, so wonderful, so alluring. 



It made my pulse throb at his approach. It made my 
cheeks flame with the heat of my young blood. 

Vasili said he loved me. Did I love him? If I did, 
it was more because of the marvelous world into which 
he was to lead me than on account of himself. He prom- 
ised to marry me. Did I particularly want to marry 
him? Scarcely. The prospect of marriage was more 
enticing to me because of the end it would put to my 
life of drudgery and misery than on account of anything 
else. To become free, independent, possessed of means, 
was the attractive prospect that marriage held for me. 

I was fifteen and a half when Vasili seduced me by the 
promise of marriage. We lived together for a short 
while, when orders came to the Lazovs to leave for a dif- 
ferent post. Vasili informed me of the order. 

"Then we will have to get married quickly, before you 
go," I declared. But Vasili did not think so. 

"That's quite impossible, Marusia,'* he said. 

"Why?" I inquired sharply, something rising in my 
throat, like a tide, with suffocating force. 

"Because I am an officer, and you are only a plain 
moujitchka. You understand, yourself, that at present 
we can't marry. Marusenka, I love you just as much 
as ever. Come, I'll take you home with me; you'll stay 
with my parents. I'll give you an education, then we will 
get married." 

I became hysterical, and throwing myself at him like 
a ferocious animal, I screamed at the top of my voice : 

"You villain. You deceived me. You never did love 
me. You are a scoundrel. May God curse you." 

Vasili tried to calm me. He drew near, but I repulsed 
him. He cried, he begged, he implored that I believe 
that he loved me, and that he would marry me. But I 
would not listen to him. I trembled with rage, seized 
by a fit of uncontrollable temper. He left me in tears. 


I did not sec VasUi for two days. Neither did his 
brother nor sister-in-law. He had disappeared. When 
he returned, he presented a pitiable sight. His haggard 
face, the appearance of his clothes, and the odor of vodka 
told the story of his two days' debauch. 

"Ah, Marusia, Marusia," he lamented, gripping my 
arms. "What have you done, what have you done? I 
loved you so much. And you did not want to understand 
me. You have ruined my life and your own." 

My heart was wrung with pity for Vasili. Life to 
me then was a labyrinth of blind alleys, tangled, bewilder- 
ing. It is now clear to me that Vasili did love me gen- 
uinely, and that he had indulged in the wild orgy to for- 
get himself and drown the pain I had caused him. But 
I did not understand it then. Had I loved him truly, it 
might all have been different. But a single thought domi- 
nated my mind: "He had promised to marry me and 
failed." Marriage had become to me the symbol of a 
life of independence and freedom. 

The Lazovs left. They gave me money and gifts* 
But my heart was like a deserted ruin in the winter, echo- 
ing with the whine of wild beasts. Instead of a life of 
freedom, my parents' basement awaited me. And deep 
in my bosom lurked a dread of the unknown. . . . 

I stealthily returned home. My sisters had already 
noticed a different air about me. Perhaps they had seen 
me with Vasili at one time or another. Whatever the 
cause, they had their suspicions, and did not fail to com- 
municate them to mother. It required little scrutiny for 
her to observe that from a shy little girl I had blossomed 
forth into a young woman. And then there began days 
and nights of torture for me. 

My father quickly got wind of what had happened at 
the Lazovs. He was merciless and threw himself upon 
me with a whip, nearly lashing me to death, accompany- 


ing each blow with epithets that burned into me more 
than the lashes of the whip. He also beat my mother 
when she attempted to intervene for me. 

My father would return home drunk almost every day, 
and immediately take to lashing me. Often he would 
drive me and mother barefoot out of the house, and for 
hours, at times, we shivered in the snow, hugging the icy 

Life became an actual intferno. Day and night I 
prayed to God that I fall ill or die. But God remained 
deaf. And still I felt that only sickness could save me 
from the daily punishment. **I must get sick," I said to 
myself. And so I lay on the oven at night to heat my 
body, and then went out and rolled in the snow. I did it 
several times, but without avail. I could not fall sick. 

Amid these insufferable conditions, I met the new year 
of 1905. My married sister had invited me to partici- 
pate in a masquerade. My father would not hear, at 
first, of my going out for an evening, but consented ifter 
repeated entreaties. I dressed as a boy, which was the 
first time I ever wore a man's clothes. After the dancing 
we visited some friends of my sister's, where I met a sol- 
dier, just returned from the front. He was a common 
moujik, of rough appearance and vulgar speech, and at 
least ten years older than myself. He immediately began 
to court me. His name was Afanasi Botchkarev. 

It was not long afterward that I met Botchkarev 
again in the house of a married sister of his. He invited 
me to go out for a walk, and then suddenly proposed that 
I marry him. It caught me so unexpectedly that I had no 
time for consideration. Anjrthing seemed preferable to 
the daily torments of home. If I had sought death to 
escape my father, why not marry this boorish moujik? 
And I consented thoughtlessly. 

My father objected to my marrying since I was not 


yet sixteen, but without avail. As Botchkarev was penni- 
less, and I had no money, we decided to work together 
and save. Our marriage was a hasty affair. The only 
impression that I retain is my feeling of relief at escap- 
ing from my father's brutal hands. Alas I Little did I 
then suspect that I was exchanging one form of torture 
for another. 

On the day following our marriage, which took place 
in the early spring, Afanasi and I went down to the river 
to hire ourselves as day laborers. We helped to load and 
unload lumber barges. Hard labor never daunted me, 
and I would have been satisfied, had it only been possible 
for me to get along with Afanasi otherwise. But he also 
drank, while I didn't, and intoxication invariably brutal- 
ized him. He knew of my affair with Lazov, and would 
use it as a pretext for punishing me. 

*'That officer is still in your headl" he would shout. 
"Wait, I'll knock him out of there." And he would pro- 
ceed to do so. 

Summer came. Afanasi and I found work with an 
asphalt firm. We made floors at the prison, university 
and other public buildings. We paved some streets with 
asphalt. Our work with the firm lasted about two years. 
Both of us started at seventy kopeks a day, but I rose to 
the position of assistant foreman in a few months, receiv- 
ing a ruble and fifty kopecks a day. Afanasi continued 
as a common laborer. My duties required considerable 
knowledge in the mixing of the various elements in the 
making of concrete and asphalt. 

Afanasi's low intelligence was a sufficient torment. 
But his heavy drinking was a greater source of suffering 
to me. He made a habit of beating me, and grew to be 
unendurable. I was less than eighteen years old, and 
nothing but misery seemed to be in store for me. The 
thought of escape dug itself deeper and deeper into 


my mind. I finally resolved to run away from Afanasi. 

My married sister had moved to Barnaul, where she 
and her husband served as domestics on a river steamer. 
I saved some twenty rubles, and determined to go to my 
sister, but I needed a passport. Without a passport one 
could not move in Russia, so I took my mother's. 

On the way, at a small railway station, I was held up 
by an officer of the gendarmes. 

"Where are you going, girl?*' he asked brusquely, eye- 
ing me with suspicion. 

"To Barnaul," I replied, with sinking heart. 

"Have you a passport?" he demanded. 

"Yes," I said, drawing it out of my bag. 

"What's your name?" was the next question. 

"Maria Botchkareva." 

In my confusion I had forgotten that the passport was 
my mother's, and that it bore the name of Olga Frolkova. 
When the officer unfolded it and glanced at the name, he 
turned on me fiercely: 

"Botchkareva, ah, so that is your name?" 

It dawned upon me then that I had committed a fatal 
mistake. Visions of prison, torture and eventual return 
to Afanasi flashed before me. "I am lost," I thought, 
falling upon my knees before the officer to beg for mercy, 
as he ordered me to follow him to headquarters. In an 
outburst of tears and sobs, I told him that I had escaped 
from a brutal husband, and since I could not possibly 
obtain a passport of my own, I was forced to make use 
of my mother's. I implored him not to send me back to 
Afanasi, for he would surely kill me. 

My simple peasant speech convinced the officer that I 
was not a dangerous political, but he would not let me go. 
He decided that I should go with him. "Come along; 
you will stay with me, and to-morrow I will send you to 


Barnaul. If you don't, I'll have you arrested and sent 
by etape* back to Tomsk." 

I was as docile as a sheep. This was my first contact 
with the authorities, and I dared not protest. If I had 
any power of will it must have been dormant. Wasn't 
the world full of wrong since my childhood? Wasn't 
this one of Life's ordinary events? We moujiks were 
created to suffer and endure. They, the officials, were 
made to punish and maltreat. And so I was led away 
by the guardian of peace and law, and made to suffer 
shame and humiliation. . . . 

I was then free to go to Barnaul, and I resumed my 
journey. When I arrived there, my sister quickly found 
employment for me on the steamship. The work was 
comparatively easy, and my life rapidly took a happier 
turn. It was such a relief to be away from that drunken, 
brutal, savage husband. 

But the relief was short-lived. Afanasi came to my 
mother after my disappearance to inquire for my where- 
abouts. She evinced surprise upon hearing of my flight, 
denying all knowledge of my destination. He returned 
to our house again and again. One day in his presence 
the mail-carrier delivered a letter from Shura. He 
seized it, and through it learned that I was in Barnaul. 

One morning, as I was standing on the deck of the ship, 
which was anchored in the harbor, my eyes suddenly fell 
on a figure approaching the wharf. It was a familiar 
figure. In another moment I recognized it as that of 
Afanasi. My blood froze and my flesh crept as I sensed 
what was coming. 

''Once fallen into his hands, my existence would become 
one of continuous torture," I thought. "I must save my- 

But how could I escape? If I were on land I might 

^ Under convoy from prison to prison* 


still have a chance. Here all avenues are closed. There, 
he is already approaching the gate to the wharf. He is 
stopping to ask a question of a guard, who nods afErma- 
tively. Now, he is walking a little faster. His face 
wears a grin that strikes terror into my heart. I am 
trapped. . . . But no, just wait a moment, Afanasi. 
Don't celebrate yet. I rush to the edge of the deck, cross 
myself and jump into the deep waters of the Ob. Ah, 
what a thrill it is to die I So I have outwitted Afanasi, 
after all. It's cold, the water is cold. And I am going 
down, down. ... I am glad. I am triumphant. I es- 
caped from the trap . . . into the arms of death. 

I awoke, not in Heaven, but in the hospital. I was ob- 
served jumping into the river, dragged out unconscious, 
and revived. 

The authorities questioned me as to the cause of my 
attempted suicide, and drew up a protocol. I told them 
of my husband, of his brutality, and of the utter impossi- 
bility of living with him. 

Afanasi was waiting in the anteroom, to see me. My 
attempt at drowning had upset him tremendously. It 
aroused a sense of shame in him. Touched by my story, 
the authorities went out and angrily rebuked him for his 
maltreatment of me. He pleaded guilty, and swore that 
he would be gentle to me in the future. 

He was then admitted to the ward in which I lay. 
Falling on his knees, he begged my forgiveness, repeating 
his oath to me and professing his love for me in the most 
endearing terms. His pleas were so compelling that I 
finally consented to return home with him. 

For a while Afanasi was truly a different man. In 
spite of his coarse habits, I was deeply moved by his 
efforts at tenderness. However, that did not last long. 
We resumed our life of drudging toil. And vodka re- 


sumed its grip on him. Once drunk, he would turn savage 

Gradually life with Afanasi grew as insufferable as 
before my escape. That summer I turned nineteen, and 
I saw ahead of me nothing but an infinite cycle of dreary 
years. Afanasi wanted me to take to drink. I resisted, 
and that infuriated him. He made it a habit to torment 
me daily, holding a bottle of vodka to my face. Deriding 
me for my efforts to lift myself above my environment, he 
resorted to blows and tricks to force the bitter drink 
down my throat. One day he even stood over me with 
a bottle of vodka for three whole hours, pinning me down 
to the ground so that I was unable to move a muscle. I 
remained unconquerable. 

Winter came. I baked bread for a living. Sundays 
I went to church to pray God to release me from my 
bondage. Again the thought of escaping wormed itself 
into my mind. The first requisite was, of course, a pass- 
port, so I went secretly to a lawyer for advice, and he 
undertook to obtain one for me legally. But hard luck 
attended me. When the police constable called to deliver 
the passport to me, Afanasi was at home. My scheme 
was discovered, and I, trapped. Afanasi jumped at me 
and bound me hand and foot, deaf to my entreaties and 
cries. I thought my end had arrived. In silence he car- 
ried me out of the house and tied me to a post. 

It was cold, very cold. He flogged me, drank, and 
flogged me again, cursing me in the vilest terms. 

"That's what you get for trying to escape," he bawled, 
holding the bottle to my mouth. "You won't escape any 
more. _You will drink or you will diel" 

I was obdurate and implored him to leave me alone. 
He continued his flogging, however, keeping me for four 
hours at the post, till I finally broke down and drank the 
alcohol. I became intoxicated, staggered out into the 

24 yASHKA 

street, and fell to the pavement iri front of the house. 
AfanasI ran after me, cursing and kicking me. We were 
quicky surrounded by a crowd. My neighbors, who knew 
of his cruelty to me, came to my defense. Afanasi was 
roughly handled by the people, so roughly, indeed, that 
he left me in peace for some time afterwards. 

Christmas was fast approaching. I had saved, little 
by little, fifty rubles. Every kopeck of that money was 
earned by extra toil during the night. It was all the 
earthly possession that I had, and I guarded it jealously. 
Somehow, Afanasi got wind of its hiding place and stole 
it. He spent it all on drink. 

I was crazed with fury upon discovering the loss. 
What the money meant to me in the circumstances is 
difficult to describe: It was my blood, my sweat, a year 
of my youth. And he, the beast, squandered it in one 
orgy. The least I could do to my torturer was to kill 

Frantically, I ran to my mother, who was struck by 
the expression of my face. 

"Marusia, what ails you?" 

"Mother," I gasped, "let me have an ax. I am going 
to kill Afanasi." 

"Holy Mother, have mercy 1" she exclaimed, raising 
her hands to Heaven and falling on her knees, exhorting 
me to come to my senses. But I was too frantic with 
rage. I seized an ax and ran home. 

Afanasi returned, drunk, and began to taunt me with 
the loss of my precious savings. I was white with wrath 
and cursed him from the depth of my heart. He gripped 
a stool and threw it at me. I caught up the ax. 

"I will kill you, you blood-sucker 1" I screamed. 

Afanasi was stupefied. He had not expected that from 
me. The desire to kill was irresistiBle. Mentally, I 


already gloated over his dead body and the freedom that 
it would bring me. I was ready to swing the ax at 
him. • . • 

Suddenly the door flew open and my father rushed in. 
He had been sent by my mother. 

"Marusia, what are you doing?" he cried out, gripping 
my arm. The break was too abrupt, my nerves collapsed, 
and I fell unconscious to the floor. Upon awakening I 
found police authorities in the house, and I told them 
everything. Afanasi was taken to the police-station, 
while the police officer, a very humane person, advised 
me to leave town to get away from him. 

I got my passport, but my money was gone. I could 
not afford to buy a ticket to Irkutsk, where Shura had 
moved from Barnaul. Determined to go at all cost, I 
boarded a train without a ticket. The conductor discov- 
ered me on the way, and I cried and begged him to allow 
me to proceed. He proposed to hide me in the baggage 
car and take me to Irkutsk, on condition that I . . . 
Enraged, I pushed him violently from me. 

"I will put you off at the next station," he shot at me, 
running out of the car. And he kept his word. 

Nearly all the distance to Irkutsk was yet before me, 
and I wanted to get there without selling myself for the 
price of a ticket. There could be no thought of going 
back. I had to get to Irkutsk. I boarded the next train, 
stealthily crouched under a bench, as it moved out of the 

Ultimately I was discovered, but this conductor was 
an elderly man and responded to my tears and implora- 
tions. I told him of my experience with the first con- 
ductor and of my total lack of money. He allowed me 
to proceed, but as soon as an inspector would board the 
train, the conductor would signal to me to hide under the 


bench. Sometimes I would spend several hours at a 
stretch there, concealed by the legs of some kind pas- 
sengers. In such a manner I journeyed for four days, 
finally reaching my destination — Irkutsk. 



I ARRIVED in Irkutsk without money. All I had was 
what I wore. I went to look for my sister, who was 
in poor circumstances and sick. Her husband was out 
of work. One could not expect an enthusiastic welcome 
under such conditions. I lost little time in seeking em- 
ployment, and quickly found a place as a dishwasher at 
nine rubles a month. It was an unbearable task, in a 
filthy hole patronized by drunkards. The treatment I 
received at the hands of the clients was so revolting that 
I left at the end of the first day. 

On the third day I found work in a laundry, where I 
had to wash hundreds of pieces daily. From five in the 
morning till eight in the evening I was bent over the 
washtub. It was rough labor, but I was forced to stay 
at it for several weeks. I lived with my sister in one 
small room, paying her rent. Presently I began to feel 
pains in my back. The hard work was telling on me. 
I resolved to leave the laundry, although my sister op- 
posed it. I had no money saved. 

Having had experience in concrete work, I applied for 
employment to an asphalt contractor. He was kind 
enough to give me a trial as an assistant foreman on a 
job he was doing at the Irkutsk prison. I was to take 
charge of ten men and women laborers. 

When I began I was met by an outburst of mirth on 
all sides. "Ha, ha," they laughed, "a baba * assuming 
a foreman's place I" 

* A vjoman in popular terminology, 



I paid no heed to the ridicule and proceeded about my 
business quietly and gently. The men obeyed, and as 
they perceived that I knew what I was about, began even 
to gain respect for me. I was given for that first test 
the preparing of a floor. Stretching myself on the 
ground with the rest of the party, planning and work- 
ing, I managed to finish my task a couple of hours ahead 
of my schedule, and marched the men triumphantly out 
of the building, to the utter amazement of the other 
foremen. My boss was all merriment. 

"Look at this habaP' he said. "She will have us men 
learning from her pretty soon. She should wear trou- 

The following day I was put in charge of twenty-five 
men. As they still regarded me as a queer novelty, I 
addressed a little speech to them, telling them that I was 
a plain peasant worker, only seeking to earn my bread. 
I appealed to their sense of fairness to cooperate with 
me. Sending for some vodka and sausages I entertained 
them and won their good will completely. My men called 
me "Manka" affectionately, and we got along splendidly. 
I was such a phenomenon that the contractor himself in- 
vited me to his home for tea. His wife, who was a very 
kind soul, told me that her husband had been praising 
me to her very much. 

The great test, however, came several days later. I 
had to prove my ability in preparing asphalt and apply- 
ing it. We were all at work at four o'clock in the morn- 
ing. As the quality of asphalt depends on the propor- 
tions of the elements used, the men were waiting rather 
amusedly for my orders. But I gave them without hesi- 
tation, and when the boss arrived at six o'clock he found 
the kettles boiling and the laborers hard at work, pouring 
the asphalt on the gravel. 

This work must be done without relaxation, in awful 


heat and suffocating odors. For a whole year I stayed 
at It, laboring Incessantly, with no holidays and no other 
rest. Like a pendulum, always In motion, I would begin 
my dally cycle before dawn, returning home after sunset, 
only to eat and go to bed to gain strength for another 
bleak day^s roimd. 

At the end I broke down. I caught cold while working 
In a basement, and became so weak that I was taken to 
the Kuznetzov Hospital, where I was confined to bed 
for two months. When I recovered and rested for about 
a week, I returned to my job, but found It occupied by a 
man who had been especially brought from European 
Russia. Besides, there wasn't much work left for the 
firm In Irlcutsk. 

My sister and her husband moved back to Tomsk 
about this time, and my situation grew desperate. I 
looked for a place as a domestic servant, but having no 
reference, I found It Impossible to obtain one. The lit- 
tle money I had finally gave out. My only friends In 
town were the Sementovskys, neighbors to my sister. I 
lived with them, but they were poor themselves, and so, 
for days at times, I would go hungry, my only suste- 
nance consisting of tea. 

One day I applied at an employment agency and was 
Informed, after being asked If I would agree to leave 
town, that a woman had been there looking for a serv- 
ant, and offered to pay twenty-five rubles a month. I 
Instantly expressed my willingness to go with her. She 
appeared In the afternoon, young, beautiful, elegantly 
dressed, her fingers and neck adorned with dazzling 
jewels. She was so tender to me, eyed me carefully, ask- 
ing If I was married. 

"I have been," I replied, "but I escaped from my hus- 
band about two years ago. He was such a brutal drunk- 
ard." I was then In my twenty-first year. 

30 yASHKA 

The lady, whose name was Anna Petrovna, gave me 
ten rubles to pay the rent I owed. I met her at the sta- 
tion, where she was accompanied by several men friends, 
and we started together for Stretinsk, in a second-class 
coach. I had never been in one before in my life. Noth- 
ing occurred on the way. I was well fed and nicely 
treated by her. She spoke to me of their business, and I 
got the idea that her husband kept a store. Upon our 
arrival at Stretinsk we were met by a man and two young 
women. The man was introduced to me as her husband 
and the two women as her foster daughters. We drove 
home, where I was assigned to a neat little room. 

I was getting uneasy. Things looked suspicious. 
"Where is the store?" I inquired. 

"In the market," was the answer. Anna Petrovna took 
me by the arm and caressingly suggested : 

"Marusenka, won't you dress up nicely? We will 
have guests to-night." And she handed me some very 
dainty and light garments, not at all befitting a servant. 
I was amazed, and objected strenuously. 

"I never wore such bizarre clothes, Anna Petrovna. 
I am a plain working girl," and I blushed deeply. I was 
both ashamed and afraid. I had a premonition of evil. 
And when she handed me a very decollete gown I became 
thoroughly frightened. 

But Anna Petrovna was persuasive and persistent, and 
I was finally induced into putting it on. It was so trans- 
parent that my cheeks flamed with shame. I refused to 
leave my room, but was forced by Anna Petrovna's coax- 
ing to follow her. As I stepped on the threshold I saw 
several girls seated freely with men, drinking beer. A 
young man was standing aside, evidently anticipating our 
appearance. He moved toward us. Anna Petrovna had 
apparently promised me to him. 

Stars were shooting before my eyes. "A house of 


shame I" The thought pierced my minfl and made me 
furious. I lost all my submissiveness and meekness. 
Seizing my clothes, I tore them wildly into shreds, stamp- 
ing with my feet, cursing, shrieking and breaking every- 
thing that I could get hold of. I caught up several bot- 
tles of beer and shattered them into fragments on the 

This outbreak lasted but a moment. Everybody in 
the room was too stupefied to move before I ran out of 
the house, wrapped only in a shawl. I hastened toHthe 
police-station at a pace that made people in the streets 
think that I must be mad. Arriving there, I made my 
complaint to the officer in charge. 

To all appearances he was little touched by my story. 
While I prayed for mercy and relief, on my knees before 
him, he was regarding me with amusement. He drew 
me near him and proposed that I go to live with him I 
I was shocked and overwhelmed. He, whose duty it 
was to protect me, was clearly in alliance with the white 

"You are all scoundrels and murderers 1'' I cried out in 
anguish. ''You ought to be ashamed to take advantage 
of a defenseless girl." 

He grew angry and ordered me locked up for the 
night. The policeman who took me down also made 
advances to me, and I had to slap him to keep him away. 
The cell was cold, dark and dirty. I had left my shawl 
upstairs. Enraged against the authorities, I broke all 
the windows and hammered continuously at the doors 
and walls, till I was set free in the morning. 

But my troubles had only begun. I had no place to go. 
For two days I wandered about town day and night. I 
was starved and worn out. Then I knelt on the bank of 
the river and prayed for half an hour. I prayed devoutly, 


pouring out my whole soul. It seemed to me that the 
Lord had heard my plea, and I felt relieved. 

I resolved to return to Anna Petrovna after my prayer. 
I thought she had been so kind at first that if I begged 
her to let me work for her as a servant she would agree. 
Before entering her house I went into the little grocery 
store nearby, and posing as the new servant of Anna 
Petrovna, who was a customer of the place, got a small 
bottle of essence of vinegar. I then entered the house 
and was well received. However, the solicitude for my 
safety angered me, and 1 resented Anna Petrovna^s ca- 
resses. I locked myself up in my room, getting ready 
to poison myself with the essence. 

As I was saying my last prayers there was a knock at 
the door. 

"Who is it?" I asked sharply. The reply was: 

"I am that young man whom you saw two days ago 
in the parlor. I want to help you. I realize that you 
are not a girl of that sort. Pray, open the door and 
let me talk to you." 

I naturally thought that this was another trap and an- 
swered wrathfully: "You are a villain 1 You are all 
villains I What do you want with me? What have I 
done to deserve torture and starvation? If I fall into 
your hands it will be only when I am dead. I am going 
to drink this poison here and let you gloat over my 

The man got excited. He ran out into the yard, raised 
an alarm, and dragging several people with him, shouted 
of my threat to take poison. A large crowd had col- 
lected around the house, and he forced the window of 
my room from the outside and jumped in. Seizing the 
glass of essence, he threw it out of the window, cursing 
Anna Petrovna and her house. He made every effort to 
calm me, expressing his admiration for my courage and 


virtue. His professions of sincerity and friendship were 
so convincing that I yielded to his invitation to go wkh 
him to the home of his parents. 

My savior, who was a handsome young man of about 
twenty-four, was Yakov Buk. He was a man of edu- 
cation, having studied at high school for some time. His 
father was a butcher. I was well received by his family, 
fed, dressed and g^ven a rest. They were kind and hos- 
pitable people. Yakov, or Yasha, as he was called inti- 
mately, took especial care of me. He loved me, and it 
was not long before he declared that he could not live 
without me. 

I was also attracted toward him. He knew of my 
previous marriage and proposed that we live together by 
civil agreement, without the sanction of the Church, a 
very common mode of marriage in Russia of late years, 
because of the difficulty in obtaining a divorce. I con- 
sented to his proposal, on condition that he tell me the 
reason for his living in a small barn in the back yard, 
apart from the family. He agreed. 

"When I was twenty," he began, "my father was in 
the business of supplying meat to several army regi- 
ments. He was a partner in a firm, and was assisted by 
my brothers and myself. Considering me the most in- 
dustrious and reliable of his sons, he entrusted me once 
with ten thousand rubles to go to buy cattle. Most of 
the money did not belong to him. 

"On the train I was drawn into a game of cards, 
staged for innocent passengers, such as I was, by a group 
of adventurers. I lost all my money and my clothes to 
boot. Dressed in rags, with two rubles, presented to me 
by the gamblers, in my pocket, I alighted at the Chinese 
border in a mood for suicide. There I became ac- 
quainted, at an inn, with some Chinese brigands who 


were members of a band operating in the neighborhood. 
One of them was the chief of the band. . 

**I told him my story, adding that I would do anything 
to save my father from disgrace and bankruptcy. He 
proposed that I join his band in a raid on an incoming 
train which was carrying fifty thousand rubles. The 
invitation nearly petrified me. But then I had a vision 
of my parents thrown out of their house, of their prop- 
erty sold at auction, and of them forced to go begging. 
It rent my heart. There was nothing to do but accept 
the offer. Led by the chieftain into the field, I was there 
introduced to most of the robbers. I was the only white 
man in the band. 

"In the evening we armed ourselves with daggers, pis- 
tols and rifles and started for the railroad line, where we 
lay in wait for the train. It nearly congealed my blood 
to think that I had turned highwayman. It was so unlike 

**The train was to pass at one in the morning. I 
prayed to God that he save me somehow from this ex- 
perience. Suddenly a body of Cossacks appeared in the 
distance, racing in our direction. The authorities had 
been on the track of this band for a long time. Every 
man in the gang threw down his weapons and ran into 
the forest. I, too, ran for all I was worth. 

"The Cossacks pursued us, and I was caught. As I 
was a Russian and a new member of the organization, I 
succeeded by persistent denials of any knowledge of the 
band in creating doubt in the minds of my captors as to 
my participation in the projected raid. But I was ar- 
rested and sent to the Irkutsk prison, where I was kept 
for a whole year. There I came in contact with many 
politicals and was converted to their ideas. Finally, for 
lack of evidence I was set free. 

"Disgraced, I returned home. My father had arrived 


at an understanding with his partner whereby he was to 
pay in monthly instalments the sum I had gambled away. 
He would not let me enter the house, but my mother de- 
fended me. There was a quarrel, which ended in an 
agreement that I be allowed to occupy this barn. But 
father swore that he would disinherit me, giving my 
share of his estate to his other sons." 

I soon had occasion to discover that Yasha was con- 
sidered a suspicious character by the local police, because 
of his imprisonment. His kindness, too, was his mis- 
fortune. Freed or escaped prisoners would sometimes 
visit him secretly and he would give them his last penny, 
piece of bread or shirt. But I liked him all the more for 
that, for it was this warm heart in him that had rescued 
me from death. We vowed to be faithful to each other 
forever. And I entered upon my duties as a housewife. 

The barn in which we were going to live was filled 
with rubbish, and had never been cleaned. I applied my- 
self studiously to make it habitable. It was not an easy 
task, but I finally succeeded. We received a gift of one 
hundred rubles from Yasha's parents, and decided to 
establish a butcher shop of our own. We got some lum- 
ber and built a small store. Then Yasha bought three 
cows and the two of us led them to the slaughter house, 
where I learned how to butcher. Yasha ran the shop. 
I was the first woman butcher in that locality. 

One summer day, while walking in the street, I saw 
some boys peddling ice-cream. I had learned how to 
make ice-cream during my apprenticeship with Nastasia 
Leontievna. It occurred to me that I could make ice- 
cream to sell. Finding out from the boys how much they 
paid for it, I offered them a lesser price and a better 
cream and asked them to come for it the next day. I 
immediately returned home and bought milk from 
Yasha's mother, who offered to give it free to me upon 


learning the purpose for which it was intended. The ice- 
cream I prepared was, happily, very good, and it sold 
quickly. During the summer I earned two or three rubles 
daily from this source. 

I led a life of toil and peace with Yasha for about three 
years. Every morning I would get up at six o'clock and 
go with him to the slaughter-house. Then all day I 
would spend at home. There were always many poor 
people, mostly women and children, stranded in our 
town, which was the jimction of a railway and river line. 
They would wander about the streets, begging for bread 
and shelter. The larger part of them would land in our 
barn-home. At times they would fill the cabin completely, 
sleeping in rows on the floor. Frequently they were sick. 
I fed them, washed them, tended to their children. 

Yasha would often remonstrate with me for laboring 
so incessantly and so hard. But I had my reward in the 
gratitude and blessings those women bestowed upon me. 
There was joy in being able to serve. In addition, I 
sent regularly to my mother ten rubles a month. Yasha 
taught me in leisure moments how to read. 

My name became a household word in the neighbor- 
hood. Wherever I went I was blessed. "There goes 
Buk-Botchkareva 1" people would point at me, whis- 
pering. Yasha's parents also grew very attached to me. 

It all ended one evening in May, 19 12. There was a 
peculiar knock at the door, and Yasha went out to admit 
a man of about thirty, well dressed, with a beard and 
pince-nez, of distinguished appearance. He was pale and 
apparently agitated. He stood with Yasha in the passage- 
way for ten minutes, conferring inaudibly. He was then 
introduced to me as an old friend of Yasha*s. He had 
escaped from prison and it was up to us to hide him, as 
his capture would mean his death. The unexpected guest 


was no less a person than the revolutionary slayer of a 
notorious Siberian Governor. 

Yasha proceeded to remove our bed from its corner. 
He next removed a board in the lower part of the wall, 
revealing, to my great astonishment, a deep cavity in the 
ground underneath. Our visitor was invited to make 
hifnself comfortable there. The board was replaced and 
the bed restored to its former position. Yasha and I 
went to bed. 

We had barely put out the light when there was heard 
a thumping of many feet around the house, followed by 
loud knocks at the door. The police were there 1 My 
heart was in my mouth, but I feigned sleep while Yasha 
opened the door. He had previously given me his re- 
volver to hide and I concealed it in my bosom. The 
search continued for nearly two hours. I was dragged 
out of bed, and everything in the house was turned up* 
side down. 

We denied any knowledge of a political fugitive, but 
the sheriff took Yasha along with him. However, he 
was released a couple of hours later. Upon his return 
Yasha let the man out of the secret hole, supplied him 
with peasant clothes and food, harnessed our horse and 
drove away with him before dawn, instructing me to an- 
swer to all inquiries by saying that he had gone to buy 

On the outskirts of the town a policeman, emerging 
from some dive in a semi-intoxicated state, observed 
Yasha driving by. He attached little significance to the 
fact at the time, but when he reported for duty in the 
morning and learned of the fugitive, he told that he had 
seen Yasha leave town with a stranger. I was doing 
some washing when the house was again surrounded by 


"Where is your husband?" the sheriff inquired, 

"Gone to buy cattle/* I replied. 

''Odievaisyaf'* he rang out angrily. I pleaded inno- 
cence, but in a terrible voice he informed me that I was 
under arrest. 

I was taken to the detective bureau, where a middle- 
aged man, who talked very gently, and seemed very 
mindful of my comfort, entered into a conversation with 
me and even invited me to tea, which invitation I re- 
fused. He went about his work very subtly, and I was 
nearly caught when he asked me if I had also met the 
young man who had arrived at our house at nine o'clock 
the night before. 

His information was quiet correct, but I obdurately 
refused to admit his implications. I knew nothing of the 
young man he spoke of, but my examiner was patient. 
He was generous in his praise of my help and devotion 
to the poor. Promising me immunity, he urged me to 
tell the truth. 

I would not yield, and his patience finally wore out. 
Furious, he struck me with a rubber whip a couple of 
times. I was enraged and addressed him by some epi- 
thets that led to my being locked up in a cell where two 
drunken street women were confined. They were of the 
most abominable sort, cursing everybody. They perse- 
cuted me unceasingly. It was a horrible night that I 
passed there. The stench alone was sufficient to drive 
one mad. I was greatly relieved when morning arrived, 
and I was taken to the office for another examination. 

I continued denying. There were threats of long im- 
prisonment, coaxings, rebukes and attempts to extort a 
confession from me, from which I learned that Yasha 
had been arrested on his way back, before reaching home, 

• Dress. 


so that he did not know of my arrest. I was detained 
for seven days, at the end of which the authorities, having 
been unable to obtain anything from me, set me free. 

Yasha was still in jail, and I started out to visit vari- 
ous officials and bureaus in his behalf. The chief of po- 
lice of the province was then in town, stopping in the 
house of a friend of ours. I invoked the aid of the latter 
in obtaining an interview for me. I was finally admitted 
before a largely built man wearing the uniform of a 
colonel. I fell on my knees before him and pleaded my 
husband's innocence, praying for mercy. I was so un- 
nerved that he helped me to rise and ordered some water 
for me, promising to investigate the case and do justice. 

I went next to the jail, hoping to see Yasha. But there 
I was informed that he had been sent to Nertchinsk, about 
eighty versts from Stretinsk. I did not tarry long in an 
effort to catch up with him. Taking along a hundred 
rubles, I took the next train to Nertchinsk, just as I was, 
and, immediately upon my arrival there, sought an audi- 
ence with the Governor, and was told to await my turn 
in the line. When my turn came the Governor, reading 
my name from the list, asked: 

"Well, what's your case?" 

**My husband, your Excellency, Yasha Buk," I replied. 

"Your husband, eh? How is he your husband if your 
name is Botchkareva?" 

"By civil agreement, your Excellency." 

"We know these civil marriages," he remarked deri- 
sively. "There are many like you in the streets," and 
dismissed my case. He said it in the hearing of a room 
full of people. My blood rushed to my face, and I was 
painfully hurt. It was with difficulty that I got a card 
of admission to the prison, but how profound was my 
grief upon being informed that Yasha had spent there 
only one night and had been sent on to Irkutsk, 


I had barely enough money with me to buy a fourth- 
class ticket to Irkutsk, and almost no belongings, but I 
did not hesitate to take the next train westward. It took 
two days to reach the Siberian capital. I stopped again 
with the Sementovskys, who were glad to welcome me. 
I wended my way to the Irkutsk prison, only to discover 
that Yasha had been taken to the Central Distribution 
Prison at Alexandrovsk, thirty versts from the near rail- 
way station of Usolye. There was little time to lose. I 
left the same day for Usolye, whence I had to walk to 

It was late in the autumn of 191 2. I started out with 
little food, and was soon exhausted. It was not an easy 
task to get to Alexandrovsk. The road lay across a river 
and through an island, connected by ferries. 

On the way I made the acquaintance of a woman, Av- 
dotia Ivanovna Kitova, who was also bound for the 
prison. Her husband was there too, and she told me 
why. He was drunk when the dog-catcher came to take 
away his favorite dog, and he shot the dog-catcher; now 
he was sentenced to exile, and she had decided to go 
along with him, with her two children, who were in 

At the Central Prison I received another shock. I 
wouldn't be admitted without a pass. I did not know 
that it was necessary to have a pass, I argued. But the 
warden in charge, a dried-up old man, with a flowing 
white beard, angrily shouted "Nol Nol" at me. "Get 
out of here. It's against the law ; you can't be admitted. 
Go to Irkutsk and come back with a pass, and we will 
let you in." 

"But I traveled a thousand versts to see him," I 
pleaded, in tears. "I am worn out and hungry. Allow 
me to see him just for five minutes — only five short min- 
utes. Is there no mercy in your heart for a weak woman?" 


With this I broke down and became hysterical. The 
harsh little warden, and his assistants in the office, be- 
came frightened. Yasha was brought in for a brief 
reunion. The few minutes that we were allowed to pass 
in each other's presence gave us new strength. He told 
me of his experiences, and I of mine to him, and we de- 
cided that I go to the Governor-General, Kniazev, to 
entreat his mercy. 

The day was on the decline when I started back to the 
railway station. I reached the river by twilight and man- 
aged to catch a ferry to the island. But it was dark when 
I landed there, and I lost my way trying to cross the 
island to the other ferry. 

I was cold, hungry, exhausted. My feet were swollen 
from wandering for several hours in a frantic effort to 
find the right path. When at last I got to the other side 
it must have been about midnight. I saw the lights across 
the water and called with all my remaining strength for 
the ferry. But there was no response. Only the wind, 
shrieking through the woods back of me, echoed my cries. 
I kept calling all night, but in vain. 

When it dawned I gathered my last energies, stood up 
and called out again. This time I was observed, and a 
canoe was sent after me. Unfortunately, it was in charge 
of a boy. I was too sick to move, and he could not carry 
me to it. I had to creep on all fours to the boat. With 
the boy's aid, I finally found myself in the canoe. It 
took him a long time to ferry me across, and I was in a 
state of collapse by the time we reached the other side. 
I was taken to the Kuznetzov Hospital in Irkutsk again, 
where I lay dangerously ill for several weeks. During 
this time I lost all of my hair and half of my weight. 

After my visit to Yasha he naturally told his prison 
mates of it, being proud of my loyalty to him, but when 


days and weeks passed by, and I did not return, his com- 
rades began to tease him about me. 

**A fine baba is yours. You may indeed be proud of 
her," they would torment him. "She found some other 
husband. A lot does she need you, a prisoner. They 
are all alike, yours and ours." Yasha took such droller- 
ies very much to heart. He was in complete ignorance 
of my whereabouts and finally made up his mind that I 
had betrayed him. 

As soon as I was released from the hospital, I went to 
the Governor-General, in whose office I was told that 
Yasha had been sentenced to four years' exile. Obtain- 
ing a pass, I went to Alexandrovsk to see him. But 
Yasha would not see me. Believing his comrades' taunts, 
confirmed by my two months' absence, he resolved that 
he was through with me. I was naturally at a loss to 
account for this abrupt change, and wept bitterly. Some 
of his acquaintances, who had been brought down-stairs, 
saw me cry and reported to him my emaciated appear- 
ance. Then he came down. 

Visitors were not allowed to come in contact with the 
prisoners at Alexandrovsk. There were two steel grat- 
ings in the office, separated by a distance of a couple of 
feet. The prisoner was kept behind one grating, while 
the persons who came to see him were placed behind 
the other. They could not touch each other. 

This was the setting in which I was permitted to meet 
Yasha. We both cried like children, he, at the sight of 
my thinness, realizing that he had wronged me in sus- 
pecting me of faithlessness. It was a pathetic scene, this 
meeting behind bars. Yasha told me that he would not 
be exiled before May. As I offered to accompany him 
into exile, it was necessary for me to spend the several 
intervening months at some work. I also had to get 
permission to join Yasha in exile. 


I found work with the same asphalt firm, but now as 
a common laborer, earning only fifty kopecks a day. At 
intervals I would go to Alexandrovsk to see Yasha. One 
time I was working at a job in the Irkutsk prison, and it 
was not long before the prisoners knew that I had a hus- 
band in Alexandrovsk, for there was a complete under- 
ground system of communication between the two prisons. 
On the whole, I was well treated by convicts. 

One evening, however, while at work in the hall, a 
trusty, catching me in a corner, attacked me. I fought 
hard as he knocked me down. My cries were heard by 
the laborers of my party and several prisoners. Soon 
we were surrounded by a crowd, and a quarrel ensued 
between those who defended me and the friends of the 
trusty. An assistant warden and some guards put an 
end to it, drawing up a protocol of my complaint to have 
the trusty tried in court for assault. 

As the day of the trial drew near Yasha was urged by 
his fellow prisoners to influence me to withdraw my 
charge. He told me that the law of prison communal life 
demanded that I comply with the request to drop my 
complaint. I knew that my refusal might mean Yasha's 
death, and when I was called in court to testify against 
the trusty, I declared that there had been no assault and 
that I had no complaints to make. The case was dis- 
missed, and my act enhanced Yasha's reputation among 
the inmates of both prisons. 

The winter passed. Toward Easter of 19 13 I suc- 
ceeded in obtaining permission to have myself arrested 
and sent to Alexandrovsk, in anticipation of my exile 
with Yasha. I was put in the women's building, in which 
were detained a number of women criminals. What I 
endured at their hands is almost beyond description. 
They beat me, but I knew that complaining would make 
my lot more bitter. When supper was served to us the 


matron asked me if I had been maltreated. I answered 
negatively, but she must have known better, for, turning 
to the women, she instructed them not to punish me. 

My reply to the matron somewhat improved my status 
with my prison-mates, but they forced me, nevertheless, 
to wait on them and do their dirty work. In addition to 
these sufferings, the food was putrid. The bunks in 
which we slept were unclean. Eight of us were in one 
tiny cell. I saw Yasha only once a week, every Sunday. 
I spent two months in this voluntary imprisonment, but 
it seemed like two years to me, and I looked forward 
eagerly and impatiently to the day of our starting on the 
open road to exile. 



MAY had come. The Lena had opened and become 
navigable. The heavy iron doors of the prison 
were unlocked and hundreds of inmates, including Yasha 
and me, were mustered out in the yard to prepare for 

Every winter the huge prison at Alexandrovsk would 
gather into its walls thousands of wrecked human beings, 
murderers, forgers, thieves, students, officers, peasants 
and professional persons, who had transgressed against 
the tyrannical regime. Every spring the gloomy jail 
would open its doors and pour out a stream of half- 
benumbed men and women into the wild Siberian taiga 
and the uninhabited regions bordering on the Arctic. 

All spring and summer this river of exasperated hu- 
manity would flow through Alexandrovsk into the snow- 
bound north, where they languished in unendurable cli- 
matic conditions and succumbed in large numbers in the 
land of the six months' night. Tens of thousands of 
them lie scattered from the Ural Mountains to Alaska 
in unmarked graves. . . . 

So finally we were to breathe some fresh air. There 
was bustle and hustle before our party was formed. 
There were about a thousand persons in it, including 
twenty women. Our guard consisted of five hundred 
soldiers. We were to go on foot to Katchugo, near the 
source of the Lena, a distance of about two hundred 
versts. Our baggage was loaded on wagons. 



We made thirty-five versts in the first day, according to 
schedule, stopping for the night at an exile-station on the 
edge of a village. The Siberian roads are criss-crossed 
by such stations — large wooden buildings of barn-like 
construction, with iron doors and grated windows. 
Empty inside, but for double tiers of bunks, they are sur- 
rounded by high fences, with a sentry-box at every corner. 
They offer no opportunity for escape. 

We supped on food we had brought from the prison, 
and turned in for the night. Our party was divided into 
groups of ten, each group choosing a trusty charged with 
the purchasing of food. Beginning with the second day, 
each of us received an allowance of twenty kopecks. 

There were about one hundred politicals in the party, 
the remainder being a conglomeration of criminals. The 
two sections did not get along well, and there was a con- 
tinuous feud. Men and women were packed together, 
and some of the latter conducted themselves outra- 
geously. The filth, the vermin-eaten bunks, the unimagin- 
able stench, the frequent brawls, made our trip insuffer- 
ably hideous. 

Besides, there was a privileged group with us. It con- 
sisted of the long-sentence convicts, in chains, who were 
always given priority by the unwritten law of the criminal 
world. They would be first to use the kettles to prepare 
their food. Until they were through none of us dared 
approach the fire. Their word was law. They were 
always given the right-of-way. Even the soldiers and 
officers respected their privileges. One of them was the 
chieftain of the party, and if he pledged himself, in re- 
turn for more freedom for all of us, to guarantee that 
there would be no escapes, his word would be taken 
without question by the Commander of the Guard, and 
it never was broken. 

The weather was fine the first three days. We made 


thirty versts the second day and the same distance the 
third day, but then it began to pour, and the roads be- 
came almost impassable. The mire was frightful, but 
we had to walk our scheduled thirty versts. Many in our 
party fell sick. We looked forward to the next exile- 
station with keen hope, so soaked were we and so fa- 
tigued. We longed for a roof and a dry floor, and noth- 
ing else. We forgot our hunger, we did not feel the 
vermin that night, for as soon as we reached the station 
we dropped like dead in deep slumber. 

We had a two days' rest upon our arrival at Katchugo, 
and were allowed to bathe in the Lena when our chieftain 
made himself responsible for our conduct. We found a 
small party waiting to join us at Katchugo. 

A member of this new group was recognized by some 
of the exiles as an alleged betrayer of his comrade in a 
raid, and was dragged for trial before the entire body. 

Here I witnessed a remarkable scene, the trial of a 
criminal by criminals. There was as rigid a code of 
morals in the underworld as in any legitimate govern- 
ment, and just as relentless a prosecution. A call went 
out that there would be a trial and the privileged crimi- 
nals in chains were chosen as judges. The accusers were 
called upon to state their charges, in the hearing of the 
whole party. They told of the accused man's betrayal 
of a comrade in a robbery some time before. 

There went up cries, "Kill him 1 Kill him 1 The traitor 1 
Kill him 1" This was the usual punishment for one found 
guilty. It was the custom of the authorities to watch the 
proceedings and never interfere with the carrying out 
of a sentence. As the mob was closing in on the accused, 
my heart sinking within me, the judges called for order 
and demanded that the man be given a hearing too. All 
white and trembling, he got up to tell his story in detail. 

"There were two of us/' he began, "in the scheme to 


rob a banker. It was decided that I force my way into 
the house through a window, hide there and signal to the 
other fellow at the opportune moment. I found that the 
banker had gone for the evening to a club, and concealed 
myself in a closet, waiting for his return. My comrade 
kept guard, without hearing from me, for a couple of 

"When the banker returned he sent his valet for some- 
thing in the closet in which I was hidden. Discovering 
me, the latter raised an alarm, and some servants ran out 
to call for help just at the moment when my comrade was 
about to enter the house. He was caught. I managed 
to escape through the window and the garden. I am 
innocent, comrades. I have been a criminal for many 
years, and I have a clean, honorable record." 

He then proceeded to enumerate the major accom- 
plishments of his career, and the chiefs under whom he 
had worked, and those robbers with whom he had co- 
operated in the past. 

He must have mentioned some very important per- 
sonages, as immediately a number of voices were raised 
in his favor. Some got up and eulogised the connections 
of the accused, while others quizzed him. The delibera- 
tions lasted for several hours, resulting in the acquittal 
of the man. 

The entire party, at the conclusion of the rest at 
Katchugo, was taken aboard a huge roofed barge. A 
thousand people in one hole! The prison at Alexan- 
drovsk, the exile-stations, were paradises in comparison 
with this unimaginable man-made burrow. There was 
no air and no light. Instead of windows there were some 
small openings in the roof. Many fell sick, and were 
left lying there without care, some dying. We were so 
crowded that we slept almost on top of one another, in- 
haling the foulest of odors. Every morning we were 


allowed to come out on the deck of the barge, which was 
towed by a tug. 

In our group was the woman Kitova, with her husband 
and two children. We cooked and ate our food together, 
enduring a great deal at the hands of the criminals. 
There were some quiet people among the latter, and they 
suffered from the whims of the leaders and their lackeys. 

There was a case of such a man, who happened to 
cross the path of an old criminal. The latter did not 
like the way he looked at him, and the poor man was 
beaten and, without any ceremony, thrown overboard and 
drowned. We were all locked up for it inside the barge 
and were denied the privilege of going out on the deck. 
It was the most cruel of punishments, worse than a long 
term in prison. 

We changed barges on the way, spending about two 
months on the water, having made about three thousand 
versts upon arriving at Yakutsk at the end of July. We 
were beached at night, but it was almost as light as day, 
though much colder. 

Our joy at landing was indescribable. The local po- 
liticals all came out to welcome us. We were marched 
to the Yakutsk prison, where our roll was called. Here 
the women were separated from the men, and those who 
voluntarily accompanied their husbands were set free. 

I then went to the office to inquire about the fate of 
Yasha, and was told that it was probable that he would 
be sent farther north. I was cared for by the local po- 
liticals, who sheltered me and gave me new clothing and 
money with which to purchase food and cook dinners for 

Yakutsk Is such a distant place that the prisoners there 
are allowed considerable freedom. I was nicely treated 
by the officials when I took the dinner-pail to Yasha, and 

^o yASHKA 

was permitted to remain with him as long as I desiredi 
even in privacy. 

Shortly afterwards Yasha was informed that he had 
been assigned to Kolymsk, within a hundred versts of 
the Arctic ocean, where the snow never melts and the 
winter never relaxes its grip. The news struck us as a 
bolt from the blue. To be buried alive in some snow- 
bound hutl What for? To live like beasts in that un- 
inhabitable region from which only few return to this 
world 1 

There was still one ray of hope. Governor Kraft, of 
Yakutsk, had the reputation of being a very kind man, 
and he might reassign Yasha if I begged him. Yasha had 
been advised to appeal to the Governor, and he sent me 
on this mission. 

The Governor's office was in his home. He received 
me very kindly, even shook my hand, and invited me to 
be seated. He was a tall, erect, black-bearded man of 
middle-age, and he showed every consideration for me 
as I told my story. I proposed to him to open a sanitary 
butcher-shop in Yakutsk if he allowed Yasha to remain 
there, as the local butcher-shops were impossibly filthy. 

He at first refused my suggestion, but, apparently on 
second thought, bade me follow into his apartment, where 
he seated me at a table, and, filling two glasses with wine, 
invited me to drink with him. I declined, wondering as 
to the reason for this extreme friendliness. He drew 
nearer to me, laid his hands on my coat and removed it 
Before I recovered from my astonishment he seized my 
hand and kissed it. No man had ever before kissed my 
hand, and I had an idea that it was a practice signify- 
ing immoral intentions only. Startled and indignanti I 
jumped to my feet. 

**I will give you a thousand rubles, room for a butcher- 
shop in the market, and keep your husband in Yakutsk, 


if you will agree to belong to me/' the Governor de- 
clared, trying to calm me. 

I lost my self-control. "Scoundrels 1 beasts 1 you men 
are all alike 1 all I all! alll High and low, you are all 
depraved." Grabbing my coat, I ran out of the house, 
leaving the Governor speechless. 

I rushed to my lodging, locked myself in a room and 
wept all night. My errand failed, and it was now up 
to me to choose between a living death for Yasha and 
selling myself.X' I had visions of Kolymsk, a settlement 
of several scattered huts, populated by natives, lost in 
the vast expanse of the ice-bound tundra* and buried 
for months under mountains of snow. I could almost 
hear the howling of the Arctic winds and the frightful 
growling of the polar bears. 

I pictured Yasha in the midst of it, cut off from our 
race, slowly languishing in the monotony of inactivity. 
Then my thoughts would veer about to the other alterna- 
tive. Live and work with Yasha in outward happiness, 
and stealthily, in the night, go to this degenerate Gov- 
ernor! And what if Yasha learned of my secret trips? 
How would I explain? And of what avail would any 
explanations be to him? No, it was impossible, impossi- 
ble! Ah, what a terrible night it was! From hugging 
the frozen banks of the Arctic waters, my imagination 
would carry me to the revolting embraces of Governor 
Kraft, in a fruitless search for a way out. 
" Morning finally came and found me all worn out. 
When asked by friends as to the result of my call on the 
Governor I replied that he had refused my appeal. In 
low spirits I went to see Yasha. He quickly noticed my 
downcast appearance and inquired into the cause. 

"I saw the Governor, and he would not change your 
place of exile," I informed him, gloomily. 

^ A steppe in Northern Siberia. 


Yasha flared up. "You appealed to the Governor, eh? 
The Governor never refused yet an appeal of this sort 
by a woman, I am told. He Is the kindest of men. The 
warden here just told me that the Governor has long 
felt the need of a first-class butcher-shop in town, and 
would never let us go if properly appealed to. And I 
hear that you did not plead sufficiently. You want to 
get rid of me, eh ? You want to have me sent to Kolymsk 
to die, so that you can remain here alone and carry on 
with some other man." 

Yasha*s words pained me deeply. He always had been 
very jealous, but the strain of the imprisonment and 
journey now made him more excitable. Besides, it was 
evident that some one from the Governor's office had 
communicated to him the intelligence that I had not suf- 
ficiently exerted myself in his behalf. I did not dare to 
tell him the truth, for that would have meant sure exile 
to Kolymsk, and I still hoped against hope. 

"Yasha," I implored, "how can you say such things of 
me? You know how I love you, and if you go to 
Kolymsk I'll go along with you. I have been to the Gov- 
ernor, and begged him." 

"Then go again. Fall on your knees before him, and 
beg harder. He is said to be such a kind man that he 
will surely have mercy. Otherwise, we are lost. Think 
of our destination, a land without the sun, a colony of 
three or four shacks, spread over a space of ten or fifteen 
versts, this is Kolymsk. No horses, no business, no 
trades! A land not for the living. Go, pray to the 
Governor, and he may take pity." 

I looked at Yasha, and my heart was filled with an- 
guish. He was only twenty-seven, but his hair was al- 
ready turning gray. He looked pale and exhausted. I 
could not keep myself from breaking out into sobs. 
Yasha was touched, and, placing his arm around me, 


apologized for his insinuation, assuring me of his devo- 
tion and appreciation of my endeavors to sustain him in 
his trials. I left him, with the understanding that I 
would call on the Governor again. 

**To go or not to go," was the thought that tormented 
me on the way from Yasha. I learned that the Governor 
was notorious as a libertine. He had married into a high 
bureaucrat's family for a career, and his wife was a 
hunchback, spending most of her time abroad. Plucking 
up courage, I went to the Governor again, hoping to win 
his favor by a passionate plea for Yasha. As I entered 
the office I saw the clerks wink at one another signifi- 
cantly. I could scarcely keep myself together, trembling 
in anticipation of another meeting with the Governor. As 
I was admitted into his study he arose, smiled benevo- 
lently, saying: 

"Ah, so finally you did come, my goluhka.* Now, 
don't be afraid ; I won't harm you. Calm yourself, and 
be seated," and he helped me to a chair. 

"Have pity on us, sir. Permit Yasha to remain here," 
I sobbed. 

"Now, now, don't weep," he interrupted me. "I will. 
He shall remain." 

My heart was full of gratitude, and I threw myself 
on the floor at his feet, thanking and blessing him for 
his kindness. Then it occurred to me that Yasha would 
be overjoyed to hear the news, and I arose to go, telling 
the Governor of my purpose. 

"You need not exert yourself by rushing to the prison. 
I will have the message telephoned to the warden, with 
instructions to inform your husband immediately," the 
Governor said, "and you may rest here a while." 

I was overflowing with thankfulness. He poured some 
wine into a glass and insisted that I drink it to refresh 

^Little dove. 

:j4 yashka 


myself. I had never tasted wine before, and this particu- 
lar wine was of a very strong quality. I felt a wave of 
warmth creep over me. It was so sweet and languorous. 
The Governor then filled my glass again and, also one 
for himself, inviting me to drink with him. I made an 
effort to resist, but was too weak to withstand his coax- 
ing. After the second glass it was much easier for the 
Governor to make me empty the third. I became drowsy 
and dull, unable to move. Very dimly I seemed to realize 
it all, and, collecting my last strength, I attempted to 
struggle, but felt as if I had been drugged. . • . 

I awoke about four in the morning and found myself 
in unfamiliar, luxurious surroundings. For a few mo- 
ments I could not understand where I was, and thought 
that I was dreaming. There was a strange man near me. 
He turned his face, and I recognized him as the Gov- 
ernor. I suddenly remembered everything. He made a 
motion to embrace me, but I cried out, jumped up, 
dressed myself hastily and ran from the house as if pur- 

Day was just breaking. The town was still engulfed 
in slumber, and a low mist merged the city with the river. 
It was early autunm. There was peace everywhere but 
in my heart; there, the elements were raging, and life 
grappled with death for supremacy. "What will I say 
to Yasha ? What will our friends think of me ? A pros- 
titute!" pierced my mind poignantly. "No, that must 
never happen. Death is my only savior." 

I wandered about the streets for a while, until I found 
a grocery store open, and I purchased there thirty ko- 
pecks' worth of essence of vinegar. Entering my lodg- 
ing, I was met by the question : 

"Where were you, Maria Leontievna, where did you 
sleep last night?" My appearance in itself was enough 
to arouse suspicion. Without answering, I rushed into 


my room and locked the door. After offering my last 
prayers, I resolutely drank all of the poison, and began 
writhing in terrific pain. 

At the same time, about ten in the morning, Yasha was 
released from prison and given five hundred rubles for 
the establishment of a butcher-shop. Happily he marched 
to my stopping-place, completely unaware of what had 
befallen me. It was only when he arrived at the house 
that he observed an unusual commotion. The door of 
my room had been broken in when my moans were heard. 
The poison had scorched my mouth and throat as if with 
a flame, and I was found unconscious on the floor, recov- 
ering my senses only in the hospital. ^ Around me stood 
Yasha, some nurses, and a physician who was pouring 
something into my throat. I could not speak, although 
I understood all that was going on in the room. I had 
lost so much blood, the doctor explained to Yasha, in 
reply to his anxious questions, that my recovery was very 
doubtful. "Only an unusually powerful constitution could 
withstand and emerge alive from such an ordeal," he 

For two weeks I hovered between this and the other 
world, suffering agonizing pains, writhing in breath-ar- 
resting convulsions. I was fed only on milk, introduced 
into my throat through a tube. For a month I remained 
speechless, at the end of which time I was out of dan- 
ger, but had to spend another month in the hospital be- 
fore I regained my normal health. 
^ Yasha could not, at first, understand the reason for my 
act. The Governor was so kind, so generous. He not 
only commuted his sentence, but gave us five hundred 
rubles for a store. Could there be anything more noble ? 
He finally arrived at the conclusion that the trials of the 
last year had resulted in my temporary mental derange- 
ment, which was responsible for my attempt at suicide. 


I did not disillusion him, although I felt like doing it 
whenever he eulogized the Governor. 
^ Upon leaving the hospital, we opened the butcher- 
shop and immediately began to do good business. For 
several months we led a peaceful life. Then, one after- 
noon, the Governor suddenly called at our store, ostensi- 
bly to inquire how we were getting along with the shop. 
He stretched his hand toward me, but I turned away. 

The Governor left, and Yasha raged at me for my in- 
explicable conduct. Had I gone mad? I must have, to 
be capable *of refusing to greet our benefactor, the kind- 
est of men I I was sullen and silent, but Yasha would 
not be downed. He demanded an explanation. There 
was nothing left for me to do but to make a clean breast 
of it, which I did. 

The truth was too shocking and threw him into spasms. 
He struck me with something and felled me to the floor. 
His face turned chalk-white, the veins stood out on his 
temples, and he was all atremble. He seemed unable to 
grapple with this nightmare. The Governor's liberality 
was now explained. The five hundred rubles, the com- 
mutation of his sentence, it was all a price dearly paid 
for by his beloved. 

My attempted suicide now appeared to him in its true 
light. He would take vengeance. He would kill the 
Governor, he swore, yes, he would murder that most 
despicable of villains. I hugged his feet and begged him 
not to attempt to carry out his threat. He paid no heed 
to my prayers, and talked of the hollowness of his life 
if he did not avenge me. 

He left on his fateful errand, all my efforts to bar his 
way having failed. When he appeared at the Gover- 
nor's office, requesting an audience, giving his name, the 
clerks immediately suspected him of some dark motive. 
The secretary reported to the Governor that Buk, the 


butcher, acting in a suspicious manner, desired an audi- 
ence. The Governor ordered that he be detained and 
searched. A long, sharp knife was found on him, and he 
was arrested, under instructions to have him exiled on 
the following day to Amga, a Yakut hamlet within two 
hundred versts of Yakutsk^ I had only twenty-four hours 
to dispose of the shop, and was compelled to deliver it 
into the hands of a local political, with the understanding 
that he would pay us for it a few months later. 

It was Easter-Eve, 19 14, when we started out in a 
hack, driven by a Yakut, for Amga. The mud was the 
worst I have ever come across. The horses sank so 
deep, and the wheels of the vehicle stuck so often, that it 
frequently was necessary for us to alight and help in 
extricating them. We met Easter in a native's hut on 
the road, in which children, women and animals lived to- 
gether. There is always a fire in the center of those 
huts, the smoke being allowed to escape through a hole 
in the roof. The cows were milked right there, and the 
filth was beyond words. Supping on some bread and a 
sort of tea, which was unfit for human consumption, we 
went to sleep. The following day we resumed our jour- 
ney to Amga. 



TX/E spent about six days on the road to Amga. It 
^^ was a town with a mixed population. Half of 
its homes were tiny cabins, built by Russian exiles, many 
of whom had married Yakut women, as they were physic- 
ally attractive and considered it a cause for pride to be 
the wives of white men. Their own men maltreated them 
and were lazy, so that the women usually labored to sus- 
tain the families. Some of the Yakuts were very wealthy, 
owning as many as a thousand head of deer and cattle. 
Men, women and children alike dressed only in garments 
of fur. They made their bread of a coarse flour, ground 
by hand. 

There were about fifteen political exiles in Amga. Five 
of these were university graduates, and one of them was 
Prince Alexander Gutemurov, who had been arrested 
eight years before, and had turned gray in exile. 

I was the first Russian woman to come toAmgaj and 
thejoy-trf the small colony of politicals knew no bounds. 
As the Yakut women never wash clothes, the filth in 
which the white men lived was unspeakable, an3 their 
unkempt appearance testified eloquently to the conditions 
surrounding them. They were at the mercy of vermin, 
and offered little resistance to epidemics. Clean food, 
drinkable milk, could not be had at any price. Money 
was cheap at Amga. The Prince, for instance, received 
a monthly allowance of one hundred rubles, but he could 
not get a bath for a thousand. 



I immediately took charge of the situation, rented 
a small cabin at two rubles a month, and it soon be- 
came the social center of the colony. I had benches 
and a table made, and a bed constructed. I obtained 
flour at the general store owned by Kariakin, who had 
been exiled there for a murder in 1904, and prospered 
through the establishing of this business. I baked real 
Russian bread, cooked a regular home meal, and made 
Russian tea, inviting all the politicals to dinner. 

It was a feast fit for the Gods to them, and those of 
them who were single asked me to board them regularly, 
and I not only boarded them, but I washed and repaired 
their clothes as well. I had a hut turned into a bath- 
house, and it was not long before the politicals looked 
human again. My duties in the house demanded all my 
time and energy, but I was happy in being able to serve. 
The men regarded me as their mother, and never tired 
of praising me. 

I planted a garden, and sowed some grain, as land 
was given by the community for the asking, there being 
few settlers in spite of the natural riches of the region. 
The rivers in Northern Siberia are full of fish, and there 
is no end to the wealth of timber. Within a couple of 
hundred versts from us gold mines were being worked. 
On the strength of our ownership of the butcher-shop in 
Yakutsk we were able to buy, on credit, a horse, and 
also borrow some money. 

My popularity with the politicals irritated Yasha. He 
grew jealous of their kind words, now suspecting one 
man of courting me and now another. As he had noth- 
ing to do, he nursed his jealousies till they expanded in 
his imagination. He took to playing cards, which is very 
popular with the Yakuts, who like to gamble. This led 
gradually to his becoming a professional gambler. He 
would leave the home for some neighboring Yakut set- 


tlement and stay away, frequently for several days, spend- 
ing all his time in gambling. It finally became a habit 
with him. He would disappear, and reappear suddenly, 
only in different moods. « 

When he won he would return all in smiles, with money 
jingling in his pockets, bringing me some presents, and 
displaying great generosity generally. But that was not 
the usual case. Most of the time he lost, and then he 
would come back home in gloom, depressed and dejected, 
nervous and irritable, picking quarrels and acting pro- 
vokingly. Especially was he aroused whenever he found 
some political in the house. Consumed by jealousy, he 
would taunt me, and not infrequently resort to blows. 

"Yashka, have you lost your senses?" I would say. 
"Do you need some money? You know I am always glad 
to help you out," and I would dig into my small savings, 
knowing that he had lost his last penny. But that would 
not alleviate my suffering. It was with relief that I 
looked forward to his departures, and with apprehen- 
sion that I saw him return. 

At the end of about three months, we obtained per- 
mission to visit Yakutsk for the purpose of collecting 
the money due to us for the butcher-shop, but the man 
to whom we intrusted the business now denied owing 
us any money, claiming to have paid fully at the time of 
our exile to Amga. There was a violent quarrel, but no 
money. As I delivered the store to him on faith, we 
could not substantiate our claims and oust him from his 
possession of the premises. There was nothing to be 
done but return with empty hands, with the burden of 
the debts we had acquired at Amga weighing heavily on 
our shoulders. There was the dreary prospect of toil 
before me, of hard and continuous toiling, to pay what 
we owed. 

One summer day a new party of exiles arrived at 


Amga. One of them was a young fellow of about twenty. 
Yasha took a liking to him and proposed that he remain 
in our house to help me along. Knowing of Yasha's 
jealousy, I objected. 

"Yasha," I argued, "what are you doing? You know 
how jealous you become when you find one of the colony 
in the house, and now you want me to keep this youngster 
here, with you away most of the time. You are just 
creating trouble for me, I don't want him, I need no 
help. Please don't burden me with him." 

"Marusia," Yasha replied, tenderly, "I swear that I 
won't be jealous any more. I won't, dear. Forgive me 
for all the pain I have caused you." 

Yasha's words did not entirely pacify me, but he over- 
ruled my objections, promising to be reasonable in the 
future. The same afternoon a Yakut called for him, 
and they left together to go to a gambling place. The 
young man remained with me. Nothing occurred the 
first day or two. Then, one night, I was awakened by 
the young man bending over me. I repelled him, appeal- 
ing to his sense of shame, but he persisted in his advances, 
and I struck him violently, jumping out of bed, grabbing 
a chair and, shouting at the top of my voice, drove him 
out of the house. 

It was about one o'clock in the morning. Prince Gute- 
murov w^s returning home from an evening with a 
friend, and saw me put the young man out into the night. 
The latter, however, harbored a deep feeling of ven- 
geance against me. He resolved to await Yasha's re- 
turn, on the road outside the village, and tell him a false 
version of the story 1 

"A fine wife is yours," he addressed Yasha, derisively, 
as soon as the latter appeared. 

"What's happened?" questioned Yasha excitedly. The 
young man replied that the night before I had come to 


him, but, being a loyal friend to Yasha, he drove me off 
and left the house with the purpose of intercepting and 
informing him of the incident. Yasha only had sufficient 
self-control to thunder the question: 

"Swear, are you telling the truth?" 

The young rascal answered: 

**0f course it's the truth." 

When Yasha appeared on the threshold I observed 
immediately with horror that he was in a ferocious mood, 
suppressing a storm. That made him the more dan- 
gerous. He spoke slowly, coining his words deliberately, 
words which struck terror to my soul. 

"You are a faithless woman, a harlot! You always 
have been faithless, deceiving me continually, but you are 
caught now, and you won't escape. It's fortunate that 
Dmitri is a decent young fellow and repelled your ad- 
vances. You can say your last prayers, you base creature." 

While speaking thus Yasha proceeded in a cold, busi- 
ness-like, purposeful manner to make a noose to hang me. 
It was this calm about Yasha's actions, bespeaking his 
terrible earnestness, that made shivers run over me. 

"Yasha, I am innocent, Yasha," I sobbed, throwing 
myself at his feet and kissing them. "I swear that I am 
innocent," I cried. "Have mercy! think what you are 
doing! I tell you I am innocent!" 

Yasha went on with his preparations, undisturbed. 

He attached the rope to a hook on the ceiling and 
tested the noose. 

"Yasha, come to your senses," I implored, hugging his 

He pushed me aside, placed a stool under the rope 
and ordered me, in a terrifying voice, to stand up on it. 

"Now, say your last prayers," he repeated. 

He then placed the noose around my neck and jerked 
Jthe stool from under my feet. In an instant it tightened 


about my throat; I wanted to cry out but could not; the 
pressure against the crown of my head was so terrific 
that it seemed about to crack open. Then I lost con- 
sciousness. . . . 

As the noose was tightening around my neck Yasha 
came to himself and hastened to loosen it. I dropped, 
lifeless, to the floor. In response to his calls for help 
several politicals, among whom were a couple of medical 
students, came running to the house. They made every 
effort to revive me, succeeding only after long and per- 
sistent exercises. When I opened my eyes, the whole 
colony was at my bedside. Pressed for an explanation 
of his inhuman act Yasha told of Dmitri's story. 

Then Prince Gutemurov revealed what he had seen 
the previous night, on his way home. Yasha was over- 
whelmed. He fell on his knees and begged my forgive- 
ness, cursing Dmitri and promising to make short work 
of him. But Yasha could not find him. Dmitri learned 
of the disclosure and disappeared forever from Amga. 

Soon afterward, another incident occurred which fur- 
ther embittered my life with Yasha. In his absence Va- 
sili, a political, came and told me that the authorities 
were in receipt of an order to arrest and send him to 
Irkutsk to be tried on a new charge, which carried with it 
the death-sentence. It was a regular practice of the 
Tsar's government to recall exiles for second trials oth 
some additional bit of evidence. 

Vasili asked that I lend him our horse, Maltchik, to 
help him escape. Knowing how attached Yasha was to 
the horse, I refused Vasili's request. But he persisted 
in imploring me, claiming that Prince Gutemurov had 
seen the order for the arrest, and that the sheriff was 
already on his tracks. 

"But how could the horse be returned?" I asked Va- 
sili, touched by his continuous pleading. He replied that 


he would leave it with a certain Yakut friend of ours, 
some hundred versts away, and I finally yielded, although 
not without misgivings. As soon as he left with Maltchik 
my anxiety grew into alarm. I hurried to Prince Gute- 
murov to verify Vasili's story. How thunder-struck I 
was upon learning from the Prince that he knew of no 
order to arrest Vasili, and that he had even not seen him. 
It was clear that I had been swindled and that I would 
never see the horse again. 

"My GodP* I thought, "what will happen upon 
Yasha's return and his discovery that Maltchik is gone ?" 
The specter of death rose up before me, the impression 
of my recent escape from hanging still fresh in my mind. 
I was all atremble in anticipation of Yasha, with the feel- 
ing of an entrapped animal seeking an escape. But 
there seemed to be no opening. 

It was August, 19 14. The rumblings of the great col- 
lision were Just reaching the remote Siberian provinces. 
The order for mobilization came, and there was a great 
stirring, even in the death-bound Arctic settlements, as if 
suddenly a new life had been infused into that land of 
monotony. Upon the heels of the call to arms came the 
Tsar's manifesto, abolishing the scourge of our national 
life — vodka, and with it a gigantic wave of popular en- 
thusiasm, sweeping the steppes, valleys, and forests of 
vast Russia, from Petrograd and Moscow, across the 
Ural mountains and the Siberian tundras and taiga, to 
the borders of China, and the Pacific coast. 

There was something holj^abputihejia tjon's response. 

"^TneiSpwho had fought in the Crimean War, in the 
Turkish Campaign of 1877-78, and the Russo-Japanese 
War, declared that they never saw such exaltation of 
spirit. It was an elevating, glorious, unforgettable mo- 
ment in one's life. My soul was gripped, and I had a 


dim realization orf a new world coming to life, a purged 
world, a happier and Godlier one. 

And when Vasili robbed me of our horse, and the 
dread of Yasha's frenzy had seized me, intensified by my 
inability to find an escape, the thought, "WARl" sud- 
denly flashed into my mind. ^-->. 

"Go to war to help save thy country I" a voice within ) 
me called. 

To leave Yasha for my personal comfort and safety 
was almost unthinkable. But to leave him for the field 
of unselfish sacrifice, that was a different matter. And 
the thought of going to war penetrated deeper and 
deeper into my whole being, giving me no rest. 

When Yasha returned. Prince Gutemurov and several 
other friends were in the house ready to defend me. He 
had already learned from the natives, on his way home, 
that Vasili had escaped on our horse. It seemed impos- 
sible to him that I could have given his favorite horse 
to anybody without his permission, and he therefore sus- 
pected me of an intrigue with Vasili, whom I had des- 
patched to make preparations for an elopement. He 
made a violent scene, throwing himself upon me sav- 
agely, showering blows. My friends tore him away, 
which only infuriated him the more. This inability to 
pve vent to his rage made him act like one demented. 

His. temper was clearly becoming a menace, for which 
a remedy was needed. A physician came to Amga only 
once a month. As Yasha considered himself in good 
health, there could be no question of suggesting to him 
that he consult the physician. It was, therefore, agreed 
among my friends that Prince Gutemurov should take a 
walk about the village with the doctor when he arrived, 
pass by our house as if by accident, and for me to greet 
them with an invitation to come in for tea. Everything 
went smoothly. The physician was introduced to Yasha 


and Immediately remarked upon his pale appearance and 
his inflamed eyes. 

"What ails you?" he asked Yasha, "you seem to have 
fever. Let me examine you.*' 

The result of the examination was the advice to Yasha 
to go to a hospital for treatment, which he, of course, 
ridiculed. Privately, the doctor informed Prince Gute- 
murov that Yasha's nerves had broken down and that he 
was dangerous to live with, as he might kill me for some 
trivial cause. The physician urged that I leave him at 
once. But I hesitated. Another quarrel, however, was 
not long in coming. Yasha actually made another at- 
tempt to kill me, but was stopped by our comrades. The 
cup was full. I decided to escape. 

Day and night my imagination carried me to the fields 
of battle, and my ears rang with the groans of my 
wounded brethren. The impact of the mighty armies was 
r~ b o a r d - even In uncivilized Northern Siberia. There were 
rumors in the air, rumors of victory and defeat, and 
in low voices people talked of torrents of blood 
and of rivers of maimed humanity, streaming back from 
the front, and already overflowing into the Siberian 
plains. My heart yearned to be there, in the boiling 
caldron of war, to be baptized in its fire and scorched in 
its lava. The spirit of sacrifice took possession of me. 
My country called me. And an irresistible force from 
within pulled me. . . . 

I only awaited the opportunity when Yasha would be 
gone for several days. It arrived one September day. 
Some Yakuts called for Yasha. As soon as he left I cut 
off my hair, dressed in men's clothes and provided myself 
with two loaves of bread. I had no money to speak of, 
as I took no one of the colony into my confidence. 

It was evening when I stealthily hurried out of Amga 
and took the road to Yakutsk. There were two hundred 


versts of it before me. I ran at such a pace that night, 
as I could not expect to travel iit the day-time without 
being recognized, that I covered, by dawn, fifty versts. 

Several times I had met Yakuts, and answered their 
greetings in their native dialect, with which I had grown 
familiar. In the dark they must have taken me for a 
Yakut. Otherwise, the journey was uneventful. The 
road was dry, the weather calm, and only the stars lit 
my way, my fast-beating heart echoing my foot-steps. 

When day broke I stopped beside a limpid stream and 
feasted on bread and cold water. I then made a bed of 
twigs in a hole by the road, lay down, covered myself 
with branches and went to sleep for the day. I awoke 
when evening came, offered my prayers to God, dined on 
some more bread and water, and resumed my journey. 
It took me six nights of walking to arrive at Yakutsk, 
living only on bread and water, and sleeping in hidden 
nooks by the road during the day. 

There was a new Governor in Yakutsk. Baron Kraft 
had gone to Western Europe to join his wife at some 
health resort, was stranded there after the outbreak of 
the war, and later died a prisoner in the hands of the 
enemy. The new Governor received me well, and 
granted my request to be sent home, to Tomsk, at the 
expense of the Government. He even offered me a con- 
voy for protection. 

My escape was a success, but my heart would not re- 
joice. The image of Yasha, stricken with grief, fran- 
tically searching for me, calling to me, rose before my 
eyes, and demanded an account from my conscience. Was 
it right, was it just, to leave poor Yasha all alone in for- 
lorn Amga ? Had I not vowed to remain eternally faith- 
ful to him? Was it not my bounden duty to stand by 
him to the end? Should I not return to him, then, and 
give up this wild fancy of going to war ? 


I vacillated. Was it not true, on the other hand, that 
Yasha had become a professional gambler? Was not 
life with him a perilous adventure ? Devotion to Yasha, 
a voice within me spoke, did not mean perishing with him, 
but an effort to save him. Indeed, to get Yasha out of 
that wilderness was an idea which suddenly gripped my 
imagination. And how could I ever expect to find a bet- 
ter opportunity to do so than by distinguishing myself in 
war and then petitioning the Tsar in his behalf ? 

So there I was again in the magic circle of war. I 
asked an acquaintance to write a letter for me to Yasha. 
Apologizing for my unusual departure, I informed him 
that I was going to Tomsk to enlist as a soldier, leave 
for the front and win distinction for bravery, then peti- 
tion the Tsar to pardon him, so as to enable us to resume 
our peaceful life in Stretinsk. 

It was a plan with which Destiny, that held no more 
peace for me, played havoc. The war was to continue 
as many years as I had expected it to last months, shroud- 
ing Russia in darkness, sowing revolution, bearing thun- 
der and lightning in its wings, spreading famine and chaos 
and seeds of a new world order. In those stormy years 
Yasha was to retreat to the far background of my life, 
then vanish altogether. But my heart was all with him 
that autumn day of 19 14, when I turned my eyes toward 
the bleak north for the last time, as I boarded the barge 
that was to carry me to Irkutsk, from there to Tomsk, 
and thence to war. 




NEARLY two months I traveled homeward from Ya- 
kutsk, by water, rail and foot. The war was every- 
where. The barge on the Lena was filled with recruits. 
In Irkutsk the uniform was much in evidence, and every 
now and then a regiment of soldiers would march through 
the streets on the way to the station, arousing one's mar- 
tial spirit. My convoy left me upon my arrival there, 
and I had to appeal to the authorities for funds to con- 
tinue my journey. 

My heart was hammering when I reached Tomsk, 
after an absence of about six years. Tears dimmed my 
eyes as I walked the familiar streets. Here, in this two- 
storied house, I had first learned the fickleness of man's 
love. That was ten years ago, during the Russo-Japan- 
ese War, and I was only fifteen years old. There, in 
that dilapidated little store, where I can see the figure of 
Nastasia Leontievna bent over the counter, I spent five 
years of my early youth, waiting on customers, scrubbing 
floors, cooking, washing and sewing. That long appren- 
ticeship, under the severe eyes of Nastasia Leontievna, 
served me in good stead in later years, I must admit. 
The smoking chinmey yonder belongs to the house in 
which I was married, some eight years ago, only to ex- 
perience at first hand the brutality of man. And here, 
in this basement, my father and mother have been dwell- 
ing for seventeen years. 

I swung open the door. My mother was baking bread 



and did not turn immediately. How old she had grown I 
How bent her shoulders, how white her hair 1 She veered 
her head about and stared at me for a fraction of an in- 
stant. A lump rose in my throat, rendering me speech- 

^'Mania 1" she exclaimed, rushing toward me and lock- 
ing me in her arms. 

We wept, kissed each other, and wept again. My 
mother offered prayers to the Holy Mother and swore 
that she would never let me leave her side again. The 
bread was almost burned to charcoal, having been for- 
gotten in the oven in the excitement of my return. Father 
came in, and he also was greatly aged. He greeted me 
tenderly, the years having softened the harshness of his 

I paid some visits to old friends. Nastasia Leontievna 
was overjoyed to see me. The sister of Afanasi Botch- 
karev, my first husband, also welcomed me cordially, in 
spite of the fact that I had escaped from her brother. 
She realized well enough how brutal and rough he was. 
She told me that Afanasi had been called in the first 
draft, and that it was reported that he was among the 
first prisoners taken by the Germans. I have never 
heard of him again. 

I rested for about three days. The news from the 
front was exciting. Great battles were raging. Our sol- 
diers were retreating in some places and advancing in 
others. I wished for wings to fly to their succor. My 
heart yearned and ached. 

"Do you know what war is?" I asked myself. "It's 
no woman's job. You must make sure before starting 
out, Marusia, that you won't disgrace yourself. Are you 
strong enough in spirit to face all the trials and dangers 
of this colossal war? Are you strong enough in body 
to shed blood and endure the privations of war ? Are you 


firm enough at heart to withstand the temptations that 
will come to you, living among men? Search your soul 
for an answer of truth and courage." 

And I found strength enough in me to answer "yes" 
to all these questions. I suppressed the hidden longing 
for Yasha in the depths of my being, and made the fate- 
ful decision. I would go to war and fight till death, or, if 
God preserved me, till the coming of peace. I would de- 
fend my country and help those unfortunates on the field 
of slaughter who had already made their sacrifices for the 

It was November, 19 14. With my heart steeled in 
the decision I had made, I resolutely approached the 
headquarters of the Twenty-Fifth Reserve Battalion, sta- 
tioned in Tomsk. Upon entering, a clerk asked me what 
I wanted. 

"To see the Commander," I replied. 

"What for?" he inquired. 

"L want to enlist," 1 said. 

The man looked at me for a moment and burst out 
laughing. He called to the other clerks. "Here is a 
baba who wants to enlist I" he announced jokingly, point- 
ing at me. There followed a general uproar. "Hal 
ha 1 ha 1" they chorused, forgetting their work for the mo- 
ment. When the merriment subsided a little I repeated 
my request to see the Commander, and his adjutant came 
out. He must have been told that a woman had come 
to enlist, for he addressed me gaily: 

"What is your wish?" 

"I want to enlist in the army, your Excellency," I an- 

"To enlist, eh? But you are a baba," he laughed. 
"The regulations do not permit us to enlist women. It is 
against the law." 

I insisted that I wanted to fight, and begged to see the 


Commander. The adjutant reported me to the Com- 
mander, who asked to have me shown in. 

With the adjutant laughing behind me, I blushed and 
became confused when brought before the Commander. 
He rebuked the adjutant and inquired what he could do 
for me. I repeated that I wanted to enlist and fight for 
the country. 

"It is very noble of you to have such a desire. But 
women are not allowed in the army," he said. "They 
are too weak. What could you, for instance, do in the 
front line? Women are not made for war.'* 

"Your Excellency," I insisted, "God has given me 
strength, and I can defend my country as well as a man. 
I have asked myself before coming here whether I could 
endure the life of a soldier and found that I could. Can't 
you place me in your regiment?" 

^'Golubushka/'* the Commander declared gently, 
"how can I help you? It is against thd law. I have no 
authority to enlist a woman even if I wanted to. You 
can go to the rear, enlist as a Red Cross nurse or in some 
other auxiliary of the service." 

I rejected his proposal. I had heard so many rumors 
about the women in the rear that I had come to despise 
them. I therefore reiterated my determination to go to 
the front as a regular soldier. The Commander was 
deeply impressed by my obstinacy, and wanted to help 
me. He suggested that I send a telegram to the Tsar, 
telling him of my desire to defend the country, of my 
moral purpose, and pray that he grant me the special 
right to enlist. 

The Commander promised to draw up the telegram 
himself, with a recommendation of his own, and have it 
sent from his office. He warned me, however, to con- 
sider the matter again, to think of the hardships I would 

• Little dovi. 

^ .. 


have to bear, of the soldiers' attitude toward me, and the 
universal ridicule that I would provoke. I did not change 
my mind, though. The telegram was sent at my expense, 
costing eight rubles, which I obtained from my mother. 

When I disclosed to my folks the nature of my visit 
to the Conmiander of the Twenty-Fifth Battalion they 
burst into tears. My poor mother cried that her Mania 
must have gone insane, that it was an unheard-of, impos- 
sible thing. Who ever knew of a baba going to war? 
She would allow herself to be buried alive before letting 
me enlist. My father sustained her. L wa& their only 
hope now, tKey said. They would be forced to starve 
and go begging, without my help. And the house was 
filled with sobs and wails, the two younger sisters and 
^ome neighbors joining in. 

My heart was rent in twain. It was a cruel, painful 
choice that I was called upon to make, a choice between 
my mother and my country. It cost me so much to steel 
myself for that new life, and now, when I was seemingly 
near the goal, my long-suffering mother called upon me 
to give up this ideal that possessed me, for her sake. I 
was tormented and agonized by doubt. I realized that 
I must make a decision quickly and, with a supreme effort 
and the help of God, I resolved that the call of my coun- 
tryjopk precedence over the call of my mother. 

Some time later a soldier came to the house. 

"Is Maria Botchkareva here?" he questioned. 

He came from headquarters with the news that a tele- 
gram had arrived from the Tsar, authorizing the Com- 
mander to enlist me as a soldier, and that the Commander 
wanted to see me. 

My mother did not expect such an answer. She grew 
frantic. She cursed the Tsar with all her might, although 
she had always revered him as the Little Father. "What 
kind of a Tsar is he?" she cried, *^if he takes women to 


wftr? He must have lost his senses. Who ever heard 
of a Tsar calling women to arms? Hasn't he enough 
men? Goodness knows, there are myriads of them in 

She seized the Tsar's portrait on the wall, before which 
she had crossed herself every morning, and tore it to bits, 
stamping them on the floor, with imprecations and anath- 
ema on her lips. Never again would she pray for him, 
she declared. "No, never I" 

The soldier's message had an opposite effect on me, 
and I was thrown into high spirits. Dressing in my hol- 
iday costume, I went to see the Commander. Everybody 
at headquarters seemed to know of the Tsar's telegram, 
smiles greeting me everywhere. The Commander con- 
gratulated me and read its text in a solemn voice, explain- 
ing that it was an extraordinary honor which the August 
Emperor had conferred on me, and that I make myself 
worthy of it. I was so happy, so joyous, so transported. 
It was the most blissful moment of my life. 

The Commander called his orderly in and instructed 
him to obtain a full soldier's outfit for me. I received 
two complete undergarments made of coarse linen, two 
pairs of foot-rags, a laundry bag, a pair of boots, one 
pair of trousers, a belt, a regulation blouse, a pair of 
epaulets, a cap with the insignia on it, two cartridge pock- 
ets and a rifle. My hair was clipped off. 

There was an outburst of laughter when I appeared in 
full military attire, as a regular soldier of the Fourth 
Company, Fifth Regiment. I was confused and some- 
what bewildered, hardly being able to recognize myself. 
The news of a woman recruit had preceded me at the bar- 
racks, and my arrival there precipitated a riot of fun. I 
was surrounded on all sides by green recruits who stared 
at me incredulously, but some were not satisfied with mere 
staring, so rare a novelty was I to them. They wanted 


to make sure that their eyes were not deceived, so they 
proceeded to pinch me, jostle me and brush against me. 

"Get out, she ain't no haha^* remarked one of them. 

"Sure, she is," said another, pinching me. 

"She'll run like the devil at the first German shot,'* 
joked a third, provoking an uproar. 

"We'll make it so hot for her that she'll run before 
even getting to the front," threatened a fourth. 

Here the Commander of my company interfered, and 
the boys dispersed. I was granted permission to take my 
things home before settling permanently at the barracks, 
and asked to be shown how to salute. On the way home 
I saluted every uniform in the same manner. Opening 
the door of the house, I stopped on the threshold. My 
mother did not recognize me. 

"Maria Leontievna Botchkareva here?" I asked 
sharply, in military fashion. Mother took me for some 
messenger from headquarters, and answered, "No.'* 

I threw myself on her neck. "Holy Mother, save me !" 
she exclaimed. There were cries and tears which brought 
my father and little sister to the scene. My mother be- 
came hysterical. For the first time I saw my father 
weep, and again I was urged to come back to my senses 
and give up this crazy notion to serve in the army. The 
proprietress of the house and old Nastasia Leontievna 
were called in to help dissuade me from my purpose. 

"Think what the men will do to a lone woman in their 
midst," they argued. "Why, they'll make a prostitute of 
you. They will kill you secretly, and nobody will ever 
find a trace of you. Only the other day they found the 
body of a woman along the railroad track, thrown out 
of a troop-train. You always have been such a level- 
headed girl. What has come over you? And what will 
become of your parents? They are old and weak, and 
you are their only hope. They often said that when 


Marusia came back they would end their lives In peace. 
Now you are but shortening their days, dragging them 
to their graves in sorrow." 

For a short space of time I vacillated again. The 
fierce struggle in my bosom between the two elements was 
resurrected. But I stuck by my decision, remaining deaf 
to all pleas. Then my mother grew angry and, crying 
out at the top of her voice, she shouted : 

**You are no longer my daughter 1 You have forfeited 
your mother's love.^ 

With a heavy heart I left the house for the barracks. 
The Commander of the Company did not expect me, and 
I had to explain to him why I could not pass that night at 
home. He assigned me to a place in the general bunk, 
ordering the men not to molest me. On my right and 
on my left were soldiers, and that first night in the com- 
pany of men will ever stand out in my memory. I did 
not close my eyes once during the night. 

The men were, naturally, unaccustomed to such a phe- 
nomenon as myself and took me for a loose-moraled 
woman who had made her way into the ranks for the sake 
of carrying on her illicit trade. I was, therefore, com- 
pelled constantly to fight off intrusions from all sides. As 
soon as I made an effort to shut my eyes I would discover 
the arm of my neighbor on the left around my neck, and 
would restore it to its owner with a crash. Watchful of 
his movements, I offered an opportunity for my neighbor 
on the right to get too near to me, and I would savagely 
kick him in the side. All night long my nerves were tau<. 
and my fists busy. Toward dawn I was so exhausted that 
I nearly fell asleep, when I discovered a hand on my 
chest, and before the man realized my intention, I banged 
him in the face. I continued to rain blows till the bell 
rang at five o'clock, the rising-hour. 

Ten minutes were given us to dress and wash, tardiness 


being punished by *a rebuke. At the end of the ten min- 
utes the ranks formed and every soldier's hands, ears and 
foot-rags were inspected. I was in such haste to be on 
time that I put my trousers on inside out, provoking a 
veritable storm of hilarity and paroxysms of laughter. 

The day began with a prayer for the Tsar and coun- 
try, following which every one of us received the daily 
allowance of two-and-a-half pounds of bread and a few 
cubes of sugar from our respective squad commanders. 
There were four squads to a company. Our breakfast 
consisted of bread and tea and lasted half an hour. 

At the mess I had an opportunity to get acquainted 
with some of the more sympathetic soldiers. There were 
ten volunteers in my company, and they were all students. 
After eating, there was roll-call. When the officer 
reached my name he read: "Botchkareva," to which I an- 
swered, "Aye.'* We were then taken out for instruction, 
since the entire regiment had been formed only three 
days previous. The first rule that the training officer 
tried to impress upon us was to pay attention, watch his 
movements and actions. Not all the recruits could do it 
easily. I prayed to God to enlighten me in the study of a 
soldier's duties. 

It was slow work to establish proper relations with the 
men. The first few days I was such a nuisance to the 
Company Commander that he wished me to ask for dis- 
missal. He hinted as much on a couple of occasions, but 
I continued to mind my own business and never reported 
the annoyances I endured from the men. Gradually I 
won their respect and confidence. The small group of 
volunteers always defended me. As the Russian soldiers 
call each other by nick-names, one of the first questions 
put to me by my friends was what I would like to be 

"Call me Yashka," I said, and that name stuck to me 


ever after, saving my life on more than one occasion. 
There is so much in a name, and *Tashka" was the sort 
of a name that appealed to the soldiers and always worked 
in my favor. In time it became the pet name of the regi- 
ment, but not before I had been tested by many additional 
trials and found to be a comrade, and not a woman, by 
the men. 

I was an apt student and learned almost to anticipate 
the orders of the instructor. When the day's labors 
would be completed and the soldiers gathered into knots 
to while away an hour or two in games or story-telling, I 
was always sought after to participate. I came to like 
the soldiers, who were good-natured boys, and to enjoy 
their sports. The group which Yashka joined would 
usually prove the most popular in the barrack, and it 
was sufficient to secure my cooperation in some enterprise 
to make it a success. 

There wasn't much time for relaxation, though, as we 
went through an intensive training course of only three 
months before we were sent to the front. Once a week, 
every Sunday, I would leave the barracks and spend the 
day at home, my mother having reconciled herself to my 
soldiering. On holidays I would be visited by friends 
or relatives. On one such occasion my sister and her hus- 
band called. I had been detailed for guard duty in the 
barrack that day. While on such duty a soldier is for- 
bidden to sit down or to engage in conversation. I was 
entertaining my visitors when the Company Commander 

"Do you know the rules, Botchkareva?" he asked. 

"Yes, your Excellency," I answered. 

"What are they?" 

"A soldier on guard duty is not allowed to sit down or 
engage in conversation," I replied. He ordered me to 
stand for two hours at attention, at the completion of 


my guard duty, which took twenty-four hours. Stand- 
ing at attention, in full military equipment, for two hours 
is a severe task, as one has to remain absolutely motion- 
less under the eyes of a guard, and yet it was a common 

During my training I was punished in this manner three 
times. The second time it was really not my fault. One. 
night I recognized my squad commander in a soldier who 
annoyed me, and I dealt him as hard a blow as I would 
have given to any other man. In the morning he placed 
me at attention for two hours, claiming that he had acci- 
dentally brushed against me. 

At first there was some difficulty in arranging for my 
bathing. The bath-house was used by the men, and so 
I was allowed one day to visit a public bath-house. I 
found it a splendid opportunity for some fun. I came 
into the women's room, fully dressed, and there was a tre- 
mendous outbreak as soon as I appeared. I was taken 
for a man. However, the fun did not last long. In an 
instant I was under a bombardment from every corner, 
and only narrowly escaped serious injury by crying out 
that I was a woman. 

In the last month of our training we engaged in almost 
continuous rifle practice. I applied myself zealously to 
the acquisition of skill in handling a rifle and won a men- 
tion of excellence for good marksmanship. This con- 
siderably enhanced my standing with the soldiers and 
strengthened our relations of camaraderie. 

Early in 19 15 our regiment received orders to prepare 
to proceed to the front. We received a week's freedom 
from duty. The soldiers passed these last days in drink 
and revelry and gay parties. One evening a group of 
boys invited me to go along with them to a house of ill 


"Be a soldier, Yashka," they hilariously urged me, 
scarcely expecting me to accept their invitation. 

A thought flashed through my mind. 

"FU go along and learn the soldier's life, so that I will 
understand his soul better.** And I expressed my willing- 
ness to go. Perhaps my curiosity had something to do 
with my decision. It was greeted with a storm of fun. 
Noisily we marched through the streets, singing and 
laughing, until we came to the red-light district. 

My knees grew weak as the party was about to enter 
one of the dives. I wanted to turn back and flee. But 
the soldiers would not let me. The idea of Yashka go- 
ing with them to such a place took a strong hold on their 
imagination. Soldiers, before going to the front, were 
always welcome in the district of vice as they spent their 
money freely. Our group was, therefore, promptly sur- 
rounded by the women of the place, and one of them, a 
very young and pretty girl, picked me as her favorite, to 
the boundless mirth of the boys. There were drinking, 
dancing and much noise-making generally. Nobody sus- 
pected my sex, not even my youthful love-maker, who 
seated herself in my lap and exerted all her charms to en- 
tice me. L giggled, and the boys nearly raised the roof in 
accompaniment. Presently I was left alone with my 

Suddenly the door swung open and an officer entered. 
Soldiers were forbidden to leave their barracks after eight 
o'clock, and our party had slipped out in the dark when 
we were supposed to be asleep. 

**Of what regiment are you?" the officer asked 
abruptly, as I rose to salute. 

*The Fifth Reserve Regiment, your Excellency," I 
replied ruefully. 

While this was going on the boys in the other rooms 
were notified of the officer's presence and made their es- 


cape through windows and all available doors, leaving 
me to take care of myself. 

"How dare you leave your barracks?" he thundered 
at me, "and bum around in such places so late at night? I'll 
order you to the military prison for the night." And he 
commanded me to report there immediately. 

It was my first acquaintance with the disciplinary bar- 
rack. It IS not a very comfortable place to spend a night 
in. In the morning I was called before the prison com- 
mandant, who was very rigid in his questions. Finally, 
I could contain myself no longer and broke out into laugh- 

"It was all a mistake, your Excellency," I said. 

"A mistake, eh ? What the devil do you mean, a mis- 
take? I have a report herel" he cried out angrily. 

"I am a woman, your Excellency," I laughed. 

"A woman I" he roared, opening wide his eyes and 
taking me in. In an instant he recognized the truth of 

my words. "What the h ^1!" he muttered. "A 

woman indeed 1 A woman in a soldier's uniform I" 

"I am Maria Botchkareva, of the Fifth Regiment," I 
explained. He had heard of me. 

"But what did you, a woman, do in that dive?" he in- 

"I am a soldier, your Excellency, and I went along with 
some of our boys to investigate for myself the places 
where the soldiers pass their time." 

He telephoned to the Commander of my regiment to 
inquire into my record and told him where and why I was 
detained. A titter ran through the offices when they 
learned of Yashka's adventure. The soldiers already 
knew from their comrades of the night's escapade, and 
suppressed with great difficulty their merriment, not want- 
ing to attract the attention of the officers. But now there 
was a universal riot of laughter. When I arrived it 


reached such a degree that men were actually rolling on 
the floor, holding their sides. I was punished by two 
hours at attention, the third and last time during my 
training. For a week afterward the regiment talked 
about nothing but Yashka's adventure, nearly every sol- 
dier making it a point to meet me and inquire : ' Yashka, 
how did you like it there?" 

The date of our departure was set. We received com- 
plete new outfits. I was permitted to go home to spend 
the last night, and it was a night of tears and sobs and 
yearnings. The three months I had spent in Tomsk as a 
soldier were, after all, remote from war. But now I 
felt so near to that great experience, and it awed me. I 
prayed to God to give me courage for the new trials that 
were before me, courage to live and die like a man. 

There was great excitement in the barracks the fol- 
lowing morning. It was the last that we were to spend 
there. In full martial equipment we marched to the Ca- 
thedral where we were sworn in again. There was a sol- 
emn service. The church was filled with people, and 
there was an enormous crowd outside. The Bishop ad- 
dressed us. He spoke of how the country was attacked 
by an enemy who sought to destroy Russia, and appealed 
to us to defend gloriously the Tsar and the Motherland. 
He prayed for victory for our arms and blessed us. 

There was a spiritual upheaval among the men. We 
were all so buoyant, so happy, so forgetful of our own 
lives and interests. The whole city poured out to ac- 
company us to the station, and we were cheered and 
greeted all along the route. I had never yet seen a body 
of men in such high spirits as we were that February 
morning. Woe to the Germans that might have en- 
countered us that day 1 Such was Russia going to war in 
those first months of the struggle. Hundreds of regi- 
ments like our own were streaming from east, north and 


south to the battle-fields ^ It was an inspiring, el evating, 
imperishable spectacle. 

[yTHoSier felt none of the exaltations that moved 
me. She walked along the street, beside my line, weep- 
ing, appealing to the Holy Mother and all the saints of 
the Church to save her daughter. 

"Wake up 1 Marusia," she cried. **What are you do- 
ing?" But it was too late. The ardor of war held me 
securely in its embrace. Somewhere deep in my heart my 
beloved mother's wails found an echo, but my eyes were 
dimmed with tears of joy. And only when I bade my 
mother good-by, hugging and kissing her for what she 
felt was the last time, and boarded the train, leaving 
her on the platform in a heap frantic with grief, did my 
heart quiver in my breast and a tremor shake me from 
head to foot. My resoluteness was on the point of melt- 
ing as the train pulled out of the station. 

I was going to war. 



OUR train was composed of a number of box-cars 
and one passenger-car. A box-car, having two 
bunks on each side, in which the soldiers sleep, is called 
teplushka. There are no windows in a teplushka, as it is 
really only a converted freight-car. The passenger-car 
was occupied by the four officers of our regiment, in- 
cluding our new Company Commander, Grishaninov. 
He was a short, jolly fellow and soon won his men's love 
and loyalty ^ 

There was much empty space in the passenger-car, and 
the officers bethought themselves to invite me to share it 
with them. When the invitation came the soldiers all 
shook their heads in disapproval. They suspected the 
motives of the officers and thought thafYashka could fare 
as well among them as among their superiors. 

"Botchkareva," said Commander Grishaninov, when 
I entered his car, "would you prefer to be stationed in 
this carriage? There is plenty of room." 

"No, your Excellency," I replied, saluting. "I am a 
plain soldier, and it is my duty to travel as a soldier." 

"Very well," declared the Commander, chagrined. And 
I returned to my teplushka. 

"Yashka is backl Good fellow, Yashka!" the boys 
welcomed me enthusiastically, flinging some strong epi- 
thets at the officers. They were immensely pleased at 
the idea that Yashka preferred their company in a te- 
plushka to that of the officers in a spacious passenger 



coach, and made a comfortable place for me in a corner. 

We were assigned to the Second Army, then com- 
manded by General Gurko, with headquarters at Polotsk. 
It took us two weeks to get there from Tomsk. General 
Gurko reviewed us at Army Headquarters and compli- 
mented the officers upon the regiment's fitness. We 
were then assigned to the Fifth Corps. Before we 
started th6 word went out that there' was a woman in 
our regiment. There was no lack of curiosity-seekers. 
Knots of soldiers gathered about my teplushka, peeped 
through the door and cracks in the sides to verify with 
their own eyes the incredible news. Then they would 
swear, emphasizing by spitting the inexplicable phenome- 
non of a baba going to the trenches. The attention of 
some officers was attracted by the crowd, and they came 
up to find out what the excitement was about. They re- 
ported me to the commandant of the station, who im- 
mediately sent for Colonel Grishaninov, demanding an 
explanation. But the Colonel could not satisfy the com- 
mandant's doubts and was instructed not to send me along 
with the men to the fighting line. 

"You can't go to the trenches, Botchkareva," my com- 
mander addressed me upon his return from the com- 
mandant. "The General won't allow it. He was much 
wrought up over you and could not understand how a 
woman could be a soldier." 

For a moment I was shocked. Then the happy thought 
occurred to me that no General had the authority to over- 
rule an order of the Tsar. 

"Your Excellency 1" I exclaimed to Colonel Grishani- 
nov, "I was enlisted by the grace of the Tsar as a regu- 
lar soldier. You can look up His Majesty's telegram 
in my record." 

This settled the matter, and the commandant withdrew 
his objections. There were about twenty versts to Corps 


Headquarters to be walked. The road was in a fright- 
ful condition, sticky and full of mud-holes. We were so 
tired at the end of ten versts' walking that a rest was or- 
dered. The soldiers, although fatigued, made a dry seat 
for me with their overcoats. We then resumed our jour- 
ney, arriving for supper at Headquarters, and v/ere bil- 
leted for the night in a stable. We slept like dead, on 
straw spread over the floor. 

General J^aluyey was-then rommandcr-oi,the Fifth 
Corps. He reviewed us in the morning and was ex- 
tremely satisfied, assigning us to the Seventh Division 
which was situated several versts distant. The Com- 
mander of the Division, by the name of Walter, was of 
German blood and a rascal of first rank. We were 
placed, during the night, in the woods back of the fighting 

In command of the reserves was a Colonel named 
Stubendorf , also of German blood, but a decent and pop- 
ular officer. When informed that a woman was in the 
ranks of the newly arrived regiment, he was amazed. 

**A woman I" he cried out, "she can't be permitted to 
remain. This regiment is going into battle soon, and 
women were not made for war." 

There was a heated discussion between him and Com- 
mander Grishaninov, which ended in an order for my 
appearance before them. I received a thorough test and 
passed it well. Asked if I wanted to take part in the 
fight, I replied affirmatively. Muttering his wonderment, 
Colonel Stubendorf allowed me to remain till he looked 
into the matter further. 

A big battle was raging at the time on that section 
of the front. We were told to be ready for an order 
to move at any moment to the front line. Meanwhile, 
we were sheltered in dugouts. My Company occupied ten 
of these, all bomb-proof, though not in first-class condi- 


tion. They were cold and had no windows. As soon 
as day broke we busied ourselves with cutting windows, 
building fire-places, repairing the caved-in ceilings of tim- 
ber and sand, and general house-cleaning. The dugouts 
were constructed in rows, the companies of odd numbers 
being assigned to the row on the right, while those of even 
numbers went to the left. Signs were posted oh the 
streets and each company had a sentinel on duty. 

Our position was eight versts behind the first line of 
trenches. The booming of the guns could be heard in the 
distance. Streams of wounded, some on vehicles and 
others trekking along on foot, flowed along the road. 
We drilled most of the time, the second day watched by 
Colonel Stubendorf. He must have kept a close eye on 
me, for at the end of the drilling he called me, praised 
my efliciency, and granted me permission to stay in the 

On the third day came the order to move to the trench 
lines. Through mud and under shells we marched for- 
ward. It was still light when we arrived at the firing- 
line. We had two killed and five wounded. As the 
German positions were on a hill, they were enabled to ob- 
serve all our movements.. We were therefore instructed 
by field telephone not to occupy the trenches till after 

"So this is war," I thought. My pulse quickened, and 
I caught the spirit of excitement that pervaded the regi- 
ment. We were all expectant, as if in the presence of a 
solenm revelation. We were eager to get into the fray 
to show the Germans what we, the boys of the Fifth Reg- 
iment, could do. Were we nervous? Undoubtedly. 
But it was not the nervousness of cowardice, rather was 
it the restlessness of young blood. Our hands were 
steady, our bayonets fixed. We exulted in our adven- 


Night came. The Germans were releasing a gas wave 
at us. Perhaps they noticed an unusual movement be- 
hind the lines, and wished to annihilate us before we en- 
tered the battle. But they failed. Over the wire came 
the order to put on our masks. Thus were we baptized 
in this most inhuman of all German war inventions. Our 
masks were not perfect. The deadly gas penetrated some 
and made our eyes smart and water. But we were sol- 
diers of Mother-Russia, whose sons are not unaccustomed 
to half-suffocating air, and so we withstood the irritating 

The midnight hour passed. The Commander went 
through our ranks to inform us that the hour had come 
to move into the trenches and that before dawn we would 
take the offensive. He addressed us with words of en- 
couragement and was heartily cheered. The artillery 
had been thundering all night, the fire growing more and 
more intense every hour. In single file we moved along a 
communication trench to the front line. Some of us were 
wounded, but we remained dauntless. All our fatigue 
seemed to have vanished. 

The front trench was a plain ditch, and as we lined up 
along it our shoulders touched. The positions of the enemy 
were less than one verst away, and the space between 
was filled with groans and swept by bullets. It was a 
scene full of horrors. Sometimes an enemy shell would 
land in the midst of our men, killing several and wound- 
ing many. Then we would be sprinkled with the blood 
of our comrades and spattered by the mud. 

At two in the morning the Commander appeared in 
our midst. He was seemingly nervous. The other of- 
ficers came with him and took their positions at the head 
of the men. With drawn sabers they prepared to lead 
the charge. The Commander had a rifle. 


"Viliezai I"* his voice rang out. 

I crossed myself. ^^yJieart was fiUed^with. pain for 
the bleeding men around me and stirred by an impulse pf . 
savage revenge toward the Germans. My mind was a 
kaleidoscope of many thoughts and pictures. My mother, 
death, mutilation, various petty incidents of my life filled 
it. Butjthgre was no time fgr thinking. 

I climbed out with the rest of the boys, to be met by 
a hail of machine gun bullets. For a moment there was 
confusion. So many dropped around us, like ripe wheat 
cut down by a gigantic scythe wielded by the invisible arm 
of Satan himself. Fresh blood was dripping on the cold 
corpses that had lain there for hours or days. And the 
moans, they were so heart-rending, so piercing I 

Amid the confusion the voice of our Company Com- 
mander was raised : 

"Forward 1" 

And forward we went. The enemy had perceived us 
go over the top, and he let loose Hell. As we ran ahead, 
we fired. Then the order came to lie down. The bom- 
bardment grew even more concentrated. Alternately 
running for some distance and then lying down for awhile, 
we reached the enemy's barbed wire entanglements. We 
had expected to find them demolished by our artillery, but, 
alas ! they were untouched. There were only about sev- 
enty of our Company of two hundred and fifty left. 

Whose fault was it? This was an offensive on a 
twenty-verst line, carried out by three army corps. And 
the barbed wire was uncut 1 Perhaps our artillery was 
defective I Perhaps it was the fault of some one higher 
up I Anyhow, there we were, seventy out of two hun- 
dred and fifty. And every fraction of a second was pre- 
cious. Were we doomed to die here in a heap without 
even coming to grips with the enemy? Were our bodies 

* Climb out 


to dangle on this wire to-morrow, and the day after, to 
provide food for the crows and strike terror into the 
hearts of the fresh soldiers who would take our places in 
a few hours? 

As these thoughts flashed through our minds an order 
came to retreat. The enemy let a barrage down in front 
of us. The retreat was even worse than the advance. 
By the time we got back to our trenches there were only 
forty-eight of our Company left alive. About a third 
of the two hundred and fifty were dead. The larger 
part of the wounded were in No Man's Land, and their 
cries of pain and prayers for help or death gave us no 

The remnant of our Company crouched in the trench, 
exhausted, dazed, incredulous of their escape from in- 
jury. We were hungry and thirsty and would have wel- 
comed a dry and safe place to recover our poise. But 
there we were, smarting under the defeat by the enemy's 
barbed wire barrier, with the heart-tearing appeals for 
succor coming from our comrades. Deeper and deeper 
they cut into my soul. They were so plaintive, like the 
voices of hurt children. 

In the dark it seemed to me that I saw their faces, the 
familiar faces of Ivan and Peter and Sergei and Mitia, 
the good fellows who had taken such tender care of me, 
making a comfortable place for me in that crowded te- 
plushka, or taking off their overcoats in cold weather and 
spreading them on the muddy road to provide a dry seat 
for Yashka. They called me. I could see their hands 
outstretched in my direction, their wide-open eyes strain- 
ing in the night in expectation of rescue, the deathly pal- 
lor of their countenances. Could I remain indifferent to 
their pleas ? Wasn't it my bounden duty as a soldier, as 
important as that of fighting the enemy, to render aid to 
stricken comrades? 


I climbed out of the trench and crawled under our wire 
entanglements. There was a comparative calm, inter- 
rupted only by occasional rifle shots, when I would lie 
down and remain motionless, imitating a corpse. Within 
a few feet of our line there were wounded. I carried 
them one by one to the edge of our trench where they 
were picked up and carried to the rear. The saving of 
one man stimulated me to continue my labors, till I 
reached into the far side of the field. Here I had several 
narrow escapes. A sound, made involuntarily, was suf- 
ficient to attract several bullets, and only my anticipating 
that, by flattening myself against the ground, saved me. 
When dawn broke in the east, putting an end to my ex- 
peditions through No Man's Land, I had accounted for 
about fifty lives. 

I had no idea at the time of what I had accomplished. 
But when the soldiers whom I had picked up were brought 
to the relief-station and asked who rescued then a, abo ut 
replied, "Yashka." This was communicated tolKe 
Commander, "WhtTTCTOiiimended me for an Order of the 
4th degree, **for distinguished valor shown in the saving 
of many lives under fire." 

Our kitchen had been destroyed the previous night by 
the enemy's fire, and we hungered. Our ranks were re- 
filled by fresh drafts, and our artillery again boomed all 
day, playing havoc with the enemy's wire fences. We 
knew that it meant another order to advance the follow- 
ing night, and our expectations proved correct. At about 
the same hour as the previous morning we climbed out and 
started on the run for the enemy's position. Again a rain 
of shells and bullets, again scores of wounded and killed, 
again smoke and gas and blood and mud. But we reached 
the wire parapet and It was down and torn to pieces 
this time. We halted for an instant, emitting an inhu- 
man "Hurrah I Hurrah I" that struck terror into those 


Germans that were still alive in their half-demolished 
trenches, and with fixed bayonets rushed forward and 
jumped into them. 

As I was about to descend into the ditch I suddenly ob- 
served a huge German aiming at me. Hardly did I have 
time to fire when something struck my right leg, and I 
had a sensation of a warm liquid trickling down my flesh. 
I fell. The boys had put the enemy to flight and were 
pursuing him. There were many wounded, and cries of 
**Save me, Holy Jesus 1" came from every direction. 

I suffered little pain and made several efforts to get up 
and reach our trenches. But every time I failed. I was 
too weak. There I lay in the dark of the night, within 
fifty feet of what was, twenty-four hours before, the 
enemy's position, waiting for dawn and relief. To be 
sure, I was not alone. Hundreds, thousands of gallant 
comrades were scattered on the field for versts. 

It was four hours after I was wounded before day ar- 
rived and with it our stretcher-bearers. I was picked up 
and carried to a first-aid station in the immediate rear. 
My wound was bandaged, and I was sent on to the Divi- 
sion Hospital. There I was placed on a hospital train 
and taken to Kiev. 

It was about Easter of 191 5 when I arrived in Kiev. 
The station there was so crowded with wounded from 
the front that hundreds of stretchers could not be accom- 
modated inside and were lined up in rows on the plat- 
form outside. I was picked up by an ambulance and 
taken to the Eugene Lazaret, where I was kept in the 
same ward with the men. Of course, it was a military 
hospital, and there was no women's ward. 

I spent the spring of 19 15 there. The nurses and 
physicians took good care of all the patients in the hos- 
pital. My swollen leg was restored to its normal con- 
dition, and it was a restful two months that I passed in 


Kiev. At the end of that period I was taken before a 
military medical commission, examined, pronounced in 
good health, provided with a ticket, money and a certifi- 
cate and sent to the front again. 

My route now lay through Molodechno, an important 
railway terminal. When I arrived there in the early part 
of July I was sent to the Corps Headquarters by wagon, 
and thence I proceeded on foot to my Regiment. 

My heart throbbed with joy as I drew nearer to the 
front. I had been anxious to get back to the boys. They 
had endeared themselves to me so much that my Com- 
pany was as beloved to me as my own mother. I thought 
of the comrades whose lives I had saved and wondered 
how many of them had returned to the fighting line. I 
thought of the soldiers whom I had left alive and won- 
dered if they were still among the living. Many famil- 
iar scenes came up in my imagination as I marched along 
under the brilliant rays of the sun. 

As I approached the Regimental Headquarters a sol- 
dier saw me in the distance and, turning to his comrade, he 
pointed toward me. 

"Who could that be?" he asked, remini^cently. The 
partner scratched his neck and said: 

"Why, he looks familiar." 

"That's Yashkal" exclaimed the first, as I moved 
nearer. "Yashka 1 Yashka I" they shouted at the top of 
their voices, running toward me as fast as they could. 

"Yashka is back! Yashka is backl" went out the word 
to men and oflicers alike. There was such spontaneous 
joy that I was overwhelmed. Our Regiment was then 
in the reserves, and soon I was surrounded by hundreds 
of old friends. There was intermittent kissing, embrac- 
ing, handshaking. The boys pranced about like kids, 
shouting, "Look who's herel Yashka 1" They had been 
imder the impression that I was disabled and would never 


return. They congratulated me upon my recovery. 
Even the officers came out to shake hands with me, some 
even kissing me, and all expressing their gratification at 
my recovery. 

I shall never forget the ovation I received from my 

They carried me on their shoulders, shouting, "Hurrah 
for Tashkal Three cheers for Yashkal" Many of 
them wanted me to visit their dugouts and share with 
them the food parcels they had received from home. The 
dugouts were really in a splendid state, clean, furnished, 
well protected. I was reassigned to my old Company, the 
Thirteenth, and was now considered a veteran. 

Our Company was detailed soon to act as the protect- 
ing force to a battery of artillery. Such an assignment 
was regarded by the men as a vacation, for it made pos- 
sible a genuine rest in healthful surroundings. We spent 
between two and three weeks with the battery and' were 
removed to Sloboda, a town in the vicinity of Lake Nar- 
otch, about forty versts from Molodechno. Our posi- 
tions were in a swampy region, full of mud-holes and 
marshes. It was impossible to construct and maintain 
regular trenches there. We, therefore, built a barrier 
of sand-bags, behind which we crouched, knee-deep in 
water. One could not endure long in such circumstances. 
One was compelled to snatch bits of sleep standing, and 
even the strongest constitutions broke down quickly. We 
were relieved at the end of six days and sent to the rear 
for recuperation. Then we had to relieve the men who 
had taken our places. 

Thus we continued to hold the line. As the summer 
neared its end and the rains increased, the water would 
rise and at times reach our waists. It was important to 
maintain our front intact, although for several miles the 
bogs were practically impassable. The Germans, how- 


ever, made an attempt in August to outflank the marshes, 
but failed. 

Later we were shifted to another position, some dis- 
tance away. There was comparative quiet at our front. 
Our main work consisted of sending out raiding parties 
and keeping a keen watch over the enemy's movements 
from our advanced listening-posts. We slept in the 
morning and stayed wide-awake all night. 

I participated in numerous observation parties. Usu- 
ally four of us would be detailed to a listening-post, lo- 
cated sometimes in a bush, another time in a hole in the 
ground, behind the stump of a tree, or some similar ob- 
stacle. We crawled to our post so noiselessly that not 
only the enemy but even our own men would not know our 
hiding places, which were on an average of fifty feet apart. 
Once at the post, our safety and duty demanded absolute 
inmiobility and caution. We were to make every effort 
to catch any unusual sound, and communicate it from post 
to post. Besides, there was always a chance of an enemy 
patrol or post being in close proximity without our know- 
ing it. Every two hours the holders of the posts were re- 

One foggy night, while on guard at a listening-post, I 
caught a dull noise. It sounded like a raiding party, and 
I took It at first for our own, but there was no answer 
to my sharp query for the pass-word. It was impossible 
to see in the mist. We opened fire, and the Germans 
flattened themselves against the ground and waited. 

There they lay for almost two hours, until we had for- 
gotten the incident. Then they crawled toward our post 
and suddenly appeared in front of us. There were eight 
of them. One threw a grenade, but missed our hole, and 
it exploded behind us. We fired, killing two and wound- 
ing four. The remainder escaped. 

When the Company Commander received an order to 


send out a scouting party, he would call for volunteers. 
Armed with hand-grenades, about thirty of the best sol- 
diers would go out into No Man's Land to test the 
enemy's strength by drawing his fire, or to alarm him 
by intensive bombing and shooting. Not infrequently 
scouting parties from both sides would meet. Then there 
would be a regular battle. It has happened that one party 
would let an opposite party pass by, and then attack it 
from the rear and capture it. 

The fifteenth of August, 191 5, was a memorable day in 
our lives. The enemy opened a violent fire at us at three 
A. M. of that date, demolishing our barbed-wire defenses, 
destroying some of our trenches and burying many sol- 
diers alive. Many others were killed by his shells. Al- 
together we lost fifteen killed and forty wounded out of 
two hundred and fifty. It was clear that the Germans 
contemplated an offensive. Our artillery replied vigor- 
ously, and the earth shook from the thunders of the can- 
non. We sought every protection available, our nerves 
strained in momentary anticipation of an attack. We 
crossed ourselves, prayed to God, made ready our rifles, 
and awaited orders. 

At six the Germans were observed climbing over the 
top and running in our direction. Closer and closer they 
came, and still we were kept inactive, while our artillery 
rained shells on them. When they approached within 
a hundred feet of our line the order was issued to us to 
open fire. It was such a concentrated hail of bullets 
that we let loose at the foe, decimating his ranks, that con- 
fusion resulted in his midst. We took advantage of the 
situation and rushed at the Germans, turning them back 
and pursuing them along the eighteen-verst front on which 
they started to advance. The enemy lost ten thousand 
that morning. 

During the day we received reinforcements, also new 


equipment, Including gas masks. Then word came that 
we would take the offensive the following night. Our 
guns began a terrific bombardment of the German po- 
sitions at six in the evening. We were all in a state of 
suppressed excitement. Men and officers mixed, joking 
about death. Many expected not to return and wrote 
letters to their dear ones. Others prayed. Before an 
offensive the men's camaraderie reached a climax. 
There would be affectionate partings, sincere professions 
by some of their premonitions of death and the intrusting 
of messages to friends. Universal joy was displayed 
whenever a shell of ours tore a gap in the enemy's barrier 
of wire or fell into the midst of his trenches. 

At three in the morning the order "Advance 1" rang 
out. Buoyant in spirit, we started for the enemy's posi- 
tions. Our casualties on the way were enormous. Sev- 
eral times we were ordered to lie down. Our first line 
was almost completely wiped out, but its ranks were filled 
up by men from the second row. On we went till we 
reached the Germans and overwhelmed them. Our own 
Polotsk Regiment alone captured two thousand prison- 
ers and our jubilation was boundless. We held the 
enemy's positions and No Man's Land, strewn with 
wounded and dead, was now ours. There were few 
stretcher-bearers available, and a call went out for vol- 
unteers to gather in the wounded. I was among those 
who answered the call. 

There is great satisfaction in aiding an agonized human 
being. There is great reward in the gratitude of some 
pain-convulsed boy that one wins. It gave me immense 
joy to sustain life in benumbed human bodies. As I was 
kneeling over one such wounded, who had suffered a 
great loss of blood, and was about to lift him, a sniper's 
bullet hit me between the thumb and forefinger and 
passed on and through the flesh of my left forearm. For- 


tunately I realized quickly the nature of the wounds, band- 
aged them, and, in spite of his objections, carried the 
bleeding man out of danger. 

I continued my work all night, and was recommended 
"for bravery in defensive and offensive fighting and for 
rendering, while wounded, first aid on the field of battle," 
to receive the Cross of St. George of the 4th degree. 
But I never received it. Instead, I was awarded a medal 
of the 4th degree and was informed that a woman could 
not obtain the Cross of St. George. 

I was disappointed and chagrined. Hadn't I heard 
of the Cross being given to some Red Cross nurses? I 
protested to the Commander. He fully sympathized 
with me and expressed his belief that I certainly deserved 
the Cross. 

"But," he added, disdainfully, shrugging his shoulders, 
"it is natchalstvo."* 

My arm pained, and I could not remain in the front 
line. The medical assistant of our regimental hospital 
had been severely wounded, and I was sent to act in his 
place, under the supervision of the physician. I stayed 
there two weeks, till my arm improved, and attained 
such proficiency under the doctor's instructions that he is- 
sued a certificate to me, stating that I could temporarily 
perform the duties of a medical assistant. 

The autumn of 19 15 passed, for us, uneventfully. Our 
life became one of routine. At night we kept watch, 
warming ourselves with hot tea, boiled on little stoves in 
the front trenches. With dawn we would go to sleep, and 
at nine in the morning the day would begin for some of us, 
as that was the hour for the distribution of bread and 
sugar. Every soldier received a ration of two and a half 
pounds of bread daily. It was often burned on the out- 
side and not done on the inside. At eleven o'clock, when 

♦ OMcialdom, 


dinner arrived, everybody was awake, cleaning rifles and 
repairing things generally. The kitchen was always 
about a verst in the rear, and we sent messengers to bring 
the dinner pails to the trenches. The average dinner 
consisted of a hot cabbage soup, with some meat in it. 
The meat, frequently, was spoiled. The second dish was 
always kasha, Russia's popular gruel. Our daily ration 
of sugar was supposed to be three-sixteenths of a pound. 
By the time our dinner got to us it was cold, so that tea 
was resorted to again. After noon we received our as- 
signments, and at six in the evening supper, the last meal, 
consisting only of one course, arrived. It was either cab- 
bage soup or kasha or half a herring, with bread. Many 
ate all their bread before the supper hour, or if they were 
very hungry, with the first meal, and thus were forced 
to beg for morsels from their comrades, or go hungry 
in the evening. 

Every twelve days we were relieved and sent to the 
rear for a six days' recuperation. There the baths of 
the Union of Zemstvos, which had already extended its 
activities in 191 5 throughout the front, awaited us. 
Every Divisional bath was in charge of a physician and 
a hundred volunteer workers. Every bath-house was 
also a laundry, and the men, upon entering it, left their 
dirty underwear there, receiving in exchange clean linen. 
When a company was about to leave the trenches for the 
rear, word was sent to the bath-house of its coming. 
There was nothing that the soldiers welcomed so much 
as the bath-house, so vermin-ridden were the trenches, and 
so great was their suffering on this account. 

More than anybody else did I suffer from the vermin. 
I could not think at first of going to the bath-house with 
the men. My skin was eaten through and through, and 
scabs began to form all over my body. I went to the 
Commander to inquire how I could get a bath, telling 


him of my condition. The Commander sympathized. 

"But what can I do, Yashka?" he remarked, "I can't 
keep the whole Company out ta let you alone make use of 
the bath-house. Go with the men. They respect you so 
much that I am sure they won't molest you." 

I could not quite make up my mind for awhile. But 
the vermin gave me no rest, and I was nearing the point 
of desperation. When we were relieved next and the 
boys were getting ready to march to the bath-house I 
plucked up courage and went up to my sergeant, declaring: 

"I'll go to the bath-house, too. I can't endure it any 

He approved of my decision, and I followed the Com- 
pany, arousing general merriment. "Oh, Yashka is go- 
ing with us to the bath-house 1" the boys joked, good- 
naturedly. Once inside, I hastened to occupy a corner 
for myself and demanded that the men stay away from 
there. They did, although they kept laughing and teas- 
ing. I was awfully embarrassed the first time, and as 
soon as I got through I hurried into my new underwear, 
dressed quickly and ran out of the building. But the 
bath did me so much good that I made it a habit to attend 
it with the Company every two weeks. In time, the sol- 
diers got so accustomed to it that they paid no attention 
to me, and were even quick to silence the fun-making of 
any new member of the Company. 



TOWARDS winter we were moved to a place called 
.Zelenoye PoHe. There I was placed in charge of 
twelve stretcher-bearers and served in the capacity of 
medical assistant for six weeks, exercising the authority 
of sending ill soldiers to the hospital and of granting a 
few days' rest from duty to the indisposed. 

Our positions ran through an abandoned country es- 
tate. The manor lay between the lines. We were on the 
top of the hill, while the Germans occupied the low 
ground. We could, therefore, observe their movements 
and they, in turn, watch us. If any one on either side 
raised his head he became the mark of some sniper. 

It was In this place that our men fell victims to a high 
officer's treason. There had been rumors aplenty in the 
trenches of pro-German officials in the army and the 
Court. We had our suspicions, too, and now they were 
confirmed in a shocking manner. 

General Walter paid a visit to the front line. He was 
known to be of German blood, and his harsh treatment 
of the soldiers won for him the cordial hatred of the 
rank and file. The General, accompanied by a consider- 
able suite of officers and men, exposed himself on his tour 
of inspection of our trenches completely without attract- 
ing a single enemy bullet I It was unthinkable to us who 
had to crawl on our bellies to obtain some water. And 
here was this party in open view of the enemy who kept 
such a strange silence. 



The General acted queerly. He would stop at points 
where the barbed wire was torn open or where the forti- 
fications were weak and wipe his face with his ker- 
chief. There was a general murmur among the men. 
The word "treason 1" was uttered by many lips in sup- 
pressed tones. The officers were indignant and called 
the General's attention to the unnecessary danger to which 
he exposed himself. But the General ignored their warn- 
ings, remarking, ''nitchevoT'* 

The discipline was so rigorous that no one dared to 
argue the matter with the General. The officers cursed 
when he left. The men muttered: 

**He is selling us out to the enemy 1" 

Half an hour after his departure the Germans opened 
a tremendous fire. It was particularly directed against 
those points at which the General had stopped, reducing 
their incomplete defenses to dust. We thought at first 
that the enemy intended to launch an offensive, but oui* 
expectations did not materialize. He merely continued 
his violent bombardment, wounding and burying alive 
hundreds. The cries of the men were such that rescue 
work could not be postponed. While the shelling was 
still going on I took charge and dressed some hundred 
and fifty wounds. If General Walter had appeared in 
our midst at that moment the men would never have let 
him get away alive, so intense was their feeling. 

For two weeks we worked at the reconstruction of our 
demolished trenches and altogether extracted about five 
hundred corpses. I was recommended for and received 
a gold medal of the 2d degree for "saving wounded from 
the trenches under violent fire." Usually a medical as- 
sistant received a medal of the 4th degree, but I was 
given one of the 2d degree because of the special con- 
ditions attending my work. 

*Jfs nothing. 


We were then relieved for the month and sent fifteen 
versts to the rear, to the village of Senky, on a stream 
called Uzlianka. An artillery base was located there, 
and once we got to the place our life was eased. But 
getting there was no easy task; the road was frightful. 
We were fatigued and exhausted, and most of us fell 
asleep without even eating the supper that had been pre- 
pared for us. 

There was no work for a medical assistant in the rear, 
and besides my arm had fully recovered, so I applied to 
the Commander for permission to return to the ranks. 
He granted it, promoting me to the grade of Corporal, 
which placed me in charge of eleven men. 

Here I received two letters, one from Yasha, in reply 
to mine, written from Yakutsk, in which I spoke of re- 
turning to him at the conclusion of the war. I had an 
answer sent to him reiterating my promise, on condition 
that he change his behavior toward me and treat me with 
consideration and love. The other letter was from home. 
Mother wanted me to come back, telling of her hard- 
ships and sufferings. 

It was October. This month, spent at the artillery 
base, was one of jollification. We were billeted in the 
village cabins, and engaged almost daily in sports and 
games. It was here that I was first taught how to sign 
my name and to copy the alphabet. I had learned to 
read previously, Yasha having been my first instructor. 
The literature that was allowed to circulate at the front 
was largely made up of lurid detective stories, and the 
name of "Nick Carter" was not unfamiliar even to me. 

There were-other pastimes, also. I remember one day 
during a downpour I sought shelter in a barn, where I 
found about forty oflicers and men, who had also sought 
protection there from the rain. The owner of the barn, 
a baba of middle-age, was there with her cow. I was in 


a mischievous mood and began to flirt with her, to the 
general merriment of the men. I paid her some flatter- 
ing compliments and declared that she had captivated 
me. The woman did not recognize my sex and professed 
to be insulted. Encouraged by the uproar of the men, I 
persisted in my advances, and finally made an attempt to 
kiss her. The baba, maddened by the laughter of the 
soldiers, seized a big stick of stove-wood, and with curses 
threatened me and the men. 

"Get out of here, you tormentors of a poor baba/" she 

I did not seek to provoke a fight and exclaimed to her : 

"Why, you foolish woman, I am a peasant girl my- 

This only further inflamed our hostess. She took it 
for more ridicule and became more menacing. The offi- 
cers and soldiers interfered, trying to persuade her of 
the truth of my words, as none of us wanted to be put 
out into the rain. However, it required more than words 
to convince her, so I was compelled to unbutton my coat. 

"Holy Jesus 1" the woman crossed herself. "A baba, 
indeed.'* And immediately her heart softened, and her 
tone changed into one of tenderness. She broke out into 
tears. Her husband and son were in the army, she told 
me, and she hadn't heard from them for a long time. 
She gathered me into her arms, gave me food and treated 
me to some milk, inquiring about my mother and mourn- 
ing over her lot. We parted affectionately, her blessings 
following me. 

It was snowing when we returned to the front line. 
Our position was now at Ferdinandovi Nos, between 
Lake Narotch and Baranovitchi. The first night the 
Commander of the Company issued a call for thirty vol- 
unteers to go scouting and investigate the strength and 
position of the enemy. I was among the thirty. 


We started out in single file, moving forward stealth- 
ily and as noiselessly as possible. We passed by some 
woods, in which an enemy patrol, upon hearing the 
crackling of the snow beneath some of our soldiers' boots, 
had hidden. We crawled on to the enemy trenches and 
lay in front of his barbed wide. Our chests were flat- 
tened against the snow-drifts. We were rather uneasy, 
as our presence seemed strangely unnoticed. Our offi- 
cer, Lieutenant Bobrov, a former school teacher, but a 
fighting man of the first order, suddenly caught a noise 
in our rear. 

"There is something on," he whispered to us. 

We pricked up our ears, but scarcely had we time to 
look around when we found ourselves surrounded by an 
enemy force larger than our own. It was too late to 
shoot. We resorted to our bayonets, and it was a brief 
but savage scrap. 

I found myself confronted by a German, who towered 
far above me. There was not an instant to lose. Life 
and death hung in the balance. 

I rushed at the German before he had time to move 
and ran him in the stomach with the bayonet. It stuck. 
The man fell. A stream of blood gushed forth. I made 
an effort to pull the bayonet out, but failed. It was the 
first man that I had bayoneted. It was all so lightning- 

I fled, pursued by a German, toward our trenches, 
falling several times, rising always to go on. Our wire 
entanglements were zig-zagged, and I was unable to 
find quickly our positions. My situation was getting crit- 
ical, when I discovered that I had some hand-grenades 
with me. I threw them at my pursuer, falling to the 
ground to avoid the shock of the explosion, and after- 
wards reached our trenches. 

Only ten returned of our party of thirty. The Com- 


mander personally thanked me, expressing his wonder- 
ment at my ability to bayonet a German. Deep in my 
soul I also wondered. 

The year of 19 15 was nearing its end. The winter 
was severe, and life in the trenches unbearable. Death 
was a welcome visitor. Even more welcome was a wound 
that enabled one to be sent to the hospital. There were 
many cases of men snowed under and frozen to death. 
There were many more cases of frozen feet that required 
amputation. Our equipment was running low. Our sup- 
ply organization was already breaking down. It was 
difficult to replace a worn pair of boots. Not infre- 
quently something went wrong in the kitchen, and we were 
forced to hunger as well as suffer cold. But we were pa- 
tient, like true children of Mother-Russia. It was dread- 
fully monotonous, this inactivity, the mere holding of 
those icy ditches. We longed for battles, for one mighty 
battle, to win the victory and end the war. 

One bitter night I was detailed to a listening-post with 
three men. My boots were worn out. One can't move 
while on such duty. A motion may mean death. So 
there we lay on the white ground, exposed to the attacks 
of King Frost. He went about his work without delay, 
and thoroughly. My right foot was undergoing strange 
sensations. It began to freeze. I felt like sitting up and 
rubbing it. But sitting up was not to be thought of. 
Didn't I hear a noise ? I couldn't bother with my foot ; 
I had to strain all my nerves to catch that peculiar sound. 
Or was it a mere freak of the wind? My foot grew 
numb. It was going to sleep. 

"Holy Mother, what's to be done? My right foot is 
gone. The feet of the other three men are freezing, too. 
They just whispered that to me. If only the Commander 
would relieve us now 1 But the two hours are not yet up," 
I thought. 


Suddenly we perceived two figures in white crawling 
toward us, Germans provided with appropriate costumes 
for a deathly mission. We fired, and they replied. A 
bullet pierced my coat, just scratching the skin. Then 
everything quieted down again; and we were soon re- 
lieved. I barely had strength to reach my trench. There, 
I fell exhausted, crying, "My foot! my foot!" 

I was taken to the hospital, and there the horrible con- 
dition of my foot was revealed. It was as white as snow, 
covered with frost. The pains were agonizing, but noth- 
ing terrified me as much as the physician's talk of the 
probable necessity of amputating it. But I put up a 
stubborn fight, and I saved my right limb. The doctors 
soon had it under control, and by persistent application 
succeeded in restoring it to its normal state. 

The year of Our Lord, 19 16, was ushered in while I 
lay in the hospital. Almost immediately upon my release 
our Company was sent to the rear for a month's rest in 
Beloye, a village some distance back of the fighting line. 
We were billeted with the peasants in their homes. There 
we enjoyed the use of a bath-house and slept on the peas- 
ants' ovens, in true home fashion. We even had the 
opportunity to see motion pictures, the apparatus being 
carried from base to base in an automobile of the Union 
of Zemstvos. We also established our own theater and 
staged a play, written by one of our artillery officers. 
There were two women characters in the drama, and I 
was chosen for the leading role. The other feminine 
role was played by a young officer. It was with great 
reluctance that I consented to take the part, only after 
the urgent appeals of the Commander. I did not believe 
myself capable of performing, and even the thunderous 
applause I won on that occasion has not changed my 

At Beloye many of the soldiers and officers were vis- 

1 lo YASHKA 

ited by their wives. I made many acquaintances there 
and some fast friendships. One of the latter was the wife 
of a stretcher-bearer with whom I had worked. She was 
a young, pretty and very lovable woman, and her hus- 
band adored her. When the month of our rest was 
about to expire and the order came for the women to 
leave, the sanitar* borrowed the Commander's horses to 
drive his wife to the station. On his way back he suf- 
fered a stroke of apoplexy and died immediately. He 
received a military funeral, and I made and placed a 
wreath on his bier. 

As we lowered his coffin into the grave the thought 
inevitably suggested itself to me whether I would be 
buried like this or my body lost and blown to the winds 
in No Man's Land. The same thought must have run 
through many a mind. 

Another friend, made at the same time, was the wife 
of Lieutenant Bobrov, the former school teacher. Both 
of them helped me to learn to write and improve my 
reading. The peasant women of the locality were so 
poor and ignorant that I devoted part of my time to 
aiding them. Many of them were suffering from minor 
ills that were neglected. One evening I was even called 
to attend a woman in child-birth, my first experience in 
midwifery. Another time I was asked to visit a very 
bad case of fever. 

Then came the trenches again. Again intense cold, 
again eternal watchfulness and irritating inactivity. But 
there were great expectations in the air. As the winter 
drew to its close rumors of a gigantic spring offensive 
grew thicker and thicker. Surely the war can't end with- 
out a general battle, the men argued. And so when, 
towards the end of February, we were again taken for a 
two weeks' rest, it was clear that we were to be prepared 

• Stretcher-bearer. 


for an offensive. We received new outfits and equipment. 
On March the 5th the Commander of the Regiment ad- 
dressed us. He spoke of the coming battle and appealed 
to us to be brave and win a great victory. He told us 
that the enemy's defenses were enormous and that it 
would require a powerful effort to surmount them. 

Then we started for the front. The slush and mud 
were unimaginable. We walked deep in water, mixed 
with ice. On the road we met many wounded being car- 
ried to the hospital. We also passed by a fraternal ceme- 
tery where the soldiers fallen in our lines were being 
buried in one huge grave. We were kept in the rear for 
the night, as reserves, and were told to await orders to- 
morrow to proceed to the trenches. 

On March the 6th we began an unprecedented bom- 
bardment. The Germans replied intensively, and the 
earth fairly shook. The cannonade lasted several hours. 
Then an order came for us to form ranks and march into 
the trenches. We knew that it meant participation in 
the offensive. 

Lieutenant Bobrov came up to me unexpectedly with 
these words : 

"Yashka, take this and deliver it to my wife after the 
attack. I have had a premonition for three days that I 
would not survive this battle." He handed me a letter 
and a ring. 

"But, Lieutenant," I tried to argue, well knowing that 
protestations are of no avail at such a moment, "it is not 
so. It will not be so. Premonitions are deceiving." 

He grimly shook his head and pressed my hand. 

"Not this one, Yashka," he said. 

We were in the rear trenches already, under a veritable 
shower of shells. There were dead and dying in our 
midst. Waist-deep in water we crouched, praying to 
God. Suddenly a gas wave came in our direction. It 


caught some without masks on» and there was no escape 
for them. I, myself, narrowly missed this horrible death. 
My lips contracted and my eyes watered and burned for 
three weeks afterward. 

The signal to advance was given, and we started, knee- 
deep in mud, for the enemy. In places the pools reached 
above our waists. Shells and bullets played havoc with 
us. Of those that fell wounded, many sank in the mud 
and drowned. The German fire was withering. Our 
lines grew thinner and thinner, and progress became so 
slow that our doom was certain in the event of a further 

The order to retreat rang out. How can one convey 
this march back through the inferno that No Man's Land 
presented that night of March 7th, 19 16? There were 
bleeding human beings, all but their heads submerged, 
calling plaintively for help. "Save, for the sake of 
Christ 1" came from every side. The trenches were filled 
with them, too, reverberating with their penetrating ap- 
peals. So long as we were alive we could not remain deaf 
to the pleadings of our comrades. 

Fifty of us went out to do rescue work. Never before 
had I worked in such harrowing, hair-raising circum- 
stances. One fellow was wounded in the neck or face, 
and I had to grip him under the arms and drag his body 
through the mud. Another had his side torn by a shell, 
requiring many difiicult maneuvers before I could extri- 
cate him. Several sank so deep that my own strength 
was not sufficient to drag them out. 

I finally broke down, just as I reached my trench with 
a burden. I was so exhausted that all my bones ached. 
The soldiers got some drinking water, a very hard thing 
to get there, and made some tea for me. Somehow they 
obtained for me a dry overcoat and put me to sleep in a 


protected corner. I slept about four hours, and resumed 
the fishing for wounded comrades. 

All day the artillery boomed again, as violently as the 
previous day. At night, our ranks refilled with fresh 
drafts, we climbed out again and rushed for the enemy. 
Again we suffered heavily, but our operation this time 
was more successful. When the Germans saw us push 
determinedly on in their direction they came out for a 
counter-attack. With bayonets fixed and a tremendous 
**Hurrah," we bounced at them. 

The Germans never did like the Russian bayonets. As 
a matter of fact, they dreaded them more than any other 
arm of warfare, and so they g^ve way and took to their 
heels. We pursued them into their trenches, and there 
followed a hot scramble. Many of the Germans raised 
their hands in sign of surrender. They well understood 
that we were in a fierce, exasperated mood. Others 
fought to the end, and all this time German machine guns 
swept their own trenches, where Teuton and Slav were 
mixed in combat. We rushed the machine gun nests. 

Our Regiment captured in that attack two and a half 
thousand Germans and thirty machine guns. I escaped 
only with a slight bruise in the right leg and did not leave 
the ranks. Elated by our victory over the strong de- 
fenses of the first line, we swept on toward the enemy's 
second line. His fire slackened considerably. A great 
triumph was in prospect, as behind the weak second and 
third lines there was an open stretch of undefended ter- 
ritory for many versts. 

Our advance line was within seventy feet of the en- 
emy's trenches when an order came from General Walter 
to halt and return to our positions. Men and officers 
alike were terribly shocked. Our Colonel talked to the 
General on the field telephone, explaining to him the situ- 
ation. The General was obdurate. All of us were so 


incensed at this treacherous order that, had any one of 
us taken charge at the moment, we would undoubtedly 
have snatched a great victory, as the breach in the Ger- 
man defenses was complete. 

The conversation between the Colonel and General 
ended in a quarrel. The General had not, apparently, 
expected us to break through the first German line. So 
many waves of Russian soldiers had beaten in vain 
against it, and with such terrific losses. As our men 
saw it then, it was the General's traitorous program to 
have as many of us slaughtered as possible. 

But discipline was rigid, and orders were orders. We 
had to go back. We were so exhausted that our bodies 
welcomed a rest. In those two days, the 7th and 8th of 
August, our ranks were refilled four times with fresh 
drafts. Our casualties were numberless. Like mush- 
rooms after a rain the corpses lay thick everywhere, and 
there was no count to the wounded. One could not make 
a step in No Man's Land without striking a Russian or 
German dead body. Bloody feet, hands, sometimes 
heads, lay scattered in the mud. 

That was the most terrible offensive in which I par- 
ticipated. It went down into history as the Battle of 
Postovy. We spent the first night in the German trenches 
we had captured. It was a night of unforgettable hor- 
rors. Darkness was impenetrable. The stench was suf- 
focating. The ground was full of mud-holes. Some of 
us sat on corpses. Others rested their feet on dead men. 
One could not stretch a hand without touching a lifeless 
body. We were hungry. We were cold. Our flesh 
crawled in the dreadful surroundings. I wanted to get 
up. My hand sought support. It fell on the face of a 
corpse, stuck against the wall. I screamed, slipped and 
fell. My fingers buried themselves in the torn abdomen 
of a body. 



I was seized with horror such as I had never experi- 
enced, and shrieked hysterically. My cries were heard 
in the officers' dugout, and a man was sent for me with 
an electric hand light to rescue Yashka, whom they had 
taken for wounded. It was warm and comfortable in 
the dugout, as it had previously been used by the enemy's 
regimental staff. I was given some tea, and little by 
little regained my poise. 

The entrance of the dugout was, naturally, facing the 
enemy now. He knew its exact position and concentrated 
a fire on it. Although a bombproof, it soon began to 
give way under a rain of shells. Some of these blocked 
the entrance almost completely with debris. Finally, a 
shell penetrated the roof, putting out the light, killing 
five and wounding several. I lay in a corner, buried un- 
der wreckage, soldiers and officers, some of whom were 
wounded and others dead. The groans were indescriba- 
ble. As the screech of a new shell would come overhead 
I thought death imminent. There was no question of 
making an immediate effort to extricate myself and escape 
while the bombs came crashing into the hole. When the 
bombardment finally ceased with dawn, and I was -saved, 
I could hardly believe my own senses that I was unhurt. 

The following day I discovered the body of Lieuten- 
ant Bobrov. His premonition was right, after all. A 
school teacher, he was an intrepid fighter, and a man of 
noble Impulses. I fulfilled his wish, and had his ring 
and letter sent through the physician to his wife. Our 
own Regiment had two thousand wounded. And when 
the dead were gathered from the field and carried out of 
the trenches, there were long, long rows of them 
stretched out in the sun awaiting eternal rest in the im- 
mense fraternal grave that was being dug for them in 
the rear. 

With bowed heads and bleeding hearts we paid last 


homage to our comrades. They had laid down their 
lives like true heroes, without suspecting that they were 
being sacrificed in vain by a monster-traitor. 

On March loth, still suffering from the effects of the 
dreadful contact with corpses, I was sent to the Divi- 
sional Hospital for a three days' rest. I was back in 
the trenches on the 14th, when another advance was or- 
dered. The German positions were not strongly forti- 
fied yet, and we captured their first line without serious 
losses. Then there was another few days' respite, dur- 
ing which our ranks were reformed. 

Early in the morning of March i8th, after an inef- 
fective bombardment of the enemy's positions by our artil- 
lery, the signal to go over the top was given. We ad- 
vanced in the face of a stubborn German fire, dashing 
through No Man's Land only to find the foe's wire de- 
fenses intact. There was nothing to do but retreat. It 
was while running back that a bullet struck me in the 
right leg, shattering the bone. I fell. Within a hundred 
feet of me ran the enemy's first line. Over my head bul- 
lets whizzed, pursuing my fleeing comrades. 

I was not alone. Not far from me others groaned. 
Some prayed for death. ... I grew thirsty. I had 
lost much blood. But I knew it was useless to move. 
The sun rose in the east, only to be swallowed by gray 

"Will I be rescued?" I wondered. "Perhaps the en- 
emy's stretcher-bearers will pick me up soon. But no, 
he just fired at that fellow yonder who raised himself in 
an effort to move." 

I pressed myself closer to the ground. It seemed that I 
heard voices coming near. I held my breath in suspense. 

"I am a German prisoner 1" I thought. Then the voices 
died out, and again my thirst tortured me. 

"Holy Mother, when will help come? Or am I doomed 


to lie here indefinitely till I lapse Into unconsciousness and 
expire? . . . There, the sun is already in mid-sky. The 
boys are eating their soup and warm tea. What would I 
not give for a glass of hot tea I The Germans are eating, 
too. I can hear the clatter of their pans. Why, I can 
even smell faintly the steam from their soup. 

"It is calm now. Only seldom a sniper's bullet crosses 
the field. . . . Night, night, night. . . . How I wish 
for night I Certainly our men are not going to let all 
of us perish here. Besides, they must have missed me by 
now. They surely won't let Yashka, dead or alive, lie 
in the field. So there is hope." 

The thought of the boys' discovery of my absence gave 
me new strength. The seconds seemed hours and the 
minutes days, but the shadows arrived at last, creeping 
toward the side where the sun had disappeared. Then 
came darkness and rescue was not long postponed. Our 
brave sanitars, aided by comrades, were out on their holy 
mission. Cautiously they moved nearer and nearer to the 
German line, and finally picked me up. Yes, it was 
Yashka whom they carried into our trenches. 

The boys were jubilant. "Yashka, alive ! God speed 
you to recovery, Yashka 1" I could only reply in a whis- 
per. They took me to the first-aid station, cleansed my 
wound and dressed it. I suffered much. Then I was 
sent on to Moscow, where I lay in the Ekaterina Hospi- 
tal, ward Number 20. 

I was lonely in the hospital, where I spent nearly three 
months. The other patients would have their visitors or 
receive parcels from home, but nobody visited me, no- 
body sent anything to me. March, April, May came and 
went in the monotony of ward Number 20. Finally, one 
day in the beginning of June, I was declared fit again to 
return to the- fighting line. My Regiment was just then 
being transferred to the Lutzk front. On June the 20th 


I caught up with it. The reception accorded me even 
surpassed that of the previous year. I was showered 
with fruit and sweets. The soldiers were in a happy 
mood. The Germans had just been driven back at this 
sector by General Brusilov for scores of versts. The 
country was criss-crossed by their evacuated positions. 
Here and there enemy corpses were still unburied. Our 
men, though overjoyed, were worn out by forced marches 
and the long pursuit. 

It was mid-summer, and the heat was prostrating. We 
marched on June 2ist a distance of fifteen versts and 
stopped for rest. There were many prostrations among 
us and we felt too fatigued to go on, but the Commander 
prayed us to keep going, promising a rest in the trenches. 
It was twenty versts to the front line, and we made it on 
the same day. 

As we marched along we observed on both sides of 
the road that crops that had not been destroyed by the 
swaying armies were ripening. The fighting line ran 
near a village called Dubova Kortchma. We found in 
its neighborhood a manor hastily left by the Germans. 
The estate was full of cattle, fowl, potatoes and other 
food. That night we had a feast royal. 

We occupied abandoned German trenches. It was 
not the time for rest. The artillery opened up early in 
the evening and boomed ceaselessly throughout the night. 
It could mean nothing but an immediate attack. We were 
not deceived. At four in the morning we received word 
that the Germans had left their positions and started foi* 
our side. At this moment our beloved Commander, Gri- 
shaninov, was struck to the ground. He was wounded. 
We attended to him quickly and had him despatched to 
the rear. There was no time to waste. We met the ad- 
vancing Germans by repeated volleys, and when they 


approached our positions we climbed out and charged 
them with fixed bayonets. 

Suddenly a terrific explosion deafened me, and I fell 
to the ground. A German shell had come my way, a 
shell I shall never forget, as part of it I still carry in 
my body. 

I felt terrific pains in my back. I had been hit by a 
fragment at the end of the spinal column. My agony 
lasted long enough to attract a couple of soldiers. Then 
I lapsed into unconsciousness. They carried me to a 
dressing station. The wound was so serious that the 
physician in charge did not believe that I could survive. 
I was placed in an ambulance and taken to Lutzk. I re- 
quired electrical treatments, but the Lutzk hospitals were 
not supplied with the necessary apparatus. It was de- 
cided to send me to Kiev. My condition, however, was 
so grave that for three days the doctors considered it 
dangerous to move me. 

In Kiev the flow of wounded was so great that I 
was compelled to lie in the street on a stretcher for a 
couple of hours before I was taken to a hospital. I was 
informed, after an X-ray examination, that a fragment 
of shell was imbedded in my body and asked if I wished 
an operation to have it removed. I could not imagine 
living with a piece of shell in my flesh, and so requested 
its removal. Whether because of my condition or for 
some other reason, the surgeons finally decided not to 
operate, and told me that I would have to be sent either 
to Petrograd or to Moscow for treatment. As I was 
given the choice, I decided on Moscow, because I had 
spent the spring months of the year in the Ekaterina 
Hospital there. 

The wound^in the spine paralyzed me to such an extent 
that I could not move even a finger. I lay in the Moscow 
Hospital hovering between life and death for some 


weeks, resembling a log more than a human body. Only 
my mind was active and my heart full of pain. 

Every day I was massaged, carried on a stretcher and 
bathed. Then the physician would attend me, probing 
my wound with iodine, and treating it with electricity, 
after which I was bathed again and my wound dressed. 
This daily procedure was a torture that could not be 
paralleled, in spite of the morphine injected into me. 
There was little peace in the ward in which I was kept. 
All the beds were occupied by serious cases, and the 
groans and moans must have reached to Heaven. 

Four months I lay paralyzed, never expecting to re- 
cover. My food consisted of milk and kasha, fed to me 
by an attendant. Death would have been a welcome vis- 
itor on many a gray day. It seemed so futile, so hopeless 
to continue alive in such a state, but the doctor, who was 
a Jew, and a man of sterling heart, would not give up 
hope. He persisted in his daily grind, praising my stoi- 
cism and encouraging me with kind words. His faith 
was finally rewarded. 

At the end of four months I began to feel life circu- 
lating in my inanimate body. My fingers could move! 
What a joy that was I In a few days I could turn my 
head a bit and stretch my arm. It was so marvelous, 
this gradual resurrection of my lifeless organs. To be 
able to close my fingers after four months of numbness ! 
It was thrilling. To be in a position to bend a knee that 
had been torpid so long! It was a miracle. And I of- 
fered thanks to God with all the fervor that I could 

One day a woman by the name of Daria Maxlmovna 
Vasilieva came to see me. I searched my mind in vain 
for an acquaintance of that name as I had her shown to 
my bed. But as I was perhaps the only patient in the 
ward that had no visitors and received no parcels one 


can imagine how joyous I was over the call. She intro- 
duced herself as the mother of Stepan, of my Company. 
Of course, I knew Stepan well. He was a student before 
the war and volunteered as an under-officer. 

"Stepan has just written me about you," Madame Va- 
silieva said, "urging me to look you up. *Go to the 
Ekaterina Hospital and visit our Yashka,' he writes. 
'She is lonely there, and I want you to do for her as much 
as you would do for me, for she saved my life once, and 
has been like a Godmother to the boys here. She is a 
decent, patriotic young woman and my interest in her 
is but that of a comrade, for she is a soldier, and a brave 
and gallant soldier.' He praised you so much, darling, 
that my heart just went out to you. May God bless 

She brou^t me some dainties, and we became friends 
immediately. I told her all about her son and our life in 
the trenches. She wept and wondered how I had borne 
it. Her attachment to me grew so strong that she made 
it a habit to visit me several times a week, although she 
lived on the outskirts of the city. Her husband was as- 
sistant superintendent at a factory and they occupied a 
small but comfortable dwelling in keeping with their 
means. Daria Maximovna herself was a woman of 
middle-age, modestly dressed and of gentle appearance. 
She had a married daughter, Tonetchka, and another son 
a youth of about seventeen, who was a high school stu- 

My friend buoyed up my spirits and my recovery pro- 
gressed. As I gradually regained full control of my 
muscles and nerves, I teased the doctor sometimes : 

"Well, doctor," I would say to him, "I am going to 
war again." 

"No, no," he would answer, "there will be no more 
war for you, golubushka." 


I wondered whether I really would be able to return 
to the front. There was that fragment of shell yet in 
my body. The doctor would not extract it. He advised 
me to await complete recovery and have it removed at 
some future date through an abdominal operation, as the 
fragment is lodged in the omentum. I have not yet found 
the opportunity to undergo such an operation, and still 
carry with me that piece of shell. The slightest indiges- 
tion causes me to suffer from it even now. 

I had to learn to walk as if I had never mastered that 
art before. I was not successful at the first attempt. 
Having asked the doctor for a pair of crutches, I tried to 
stand up, but fell back weakened and helpless into the 
bed. The attendants, however, placed me in a wheel- 
chair and took me out into the garden. This movement 
gave me deep satisfaction. Once, in the absence of my 
attendant, I tried to stand up alone and make a step. 
It was very painful, but I maintained my balance, and 
tears of joy came streaming down my cheeks. I was 

It was only a week later, however, that I was permitted 
by the doctor to walk a little, supported by the attend- 
ants. But I made only ten steps, beaming with triumph 
and making every effort to overcome my pain, when I 
collapsed and fainted. The nurses were alarmed and 
called the doctor, who instructed them to be more cautious 
in the future. My improvement was, nevertheless, steady, 
and a couple of weeks later I was able to walk. Nat- 
urally I did not feel sure of my legs at first; they trembled 
and seemed so weak. Gradually they regained their 
former strength and at the end of six months spent in 
the hospital I was again in possession of all my faculties. 



THE morning on which I was taken before the mili- 
tary medical commission I was in a very jolly, dev- 
ilish mood. It was a late December day, but the sun 
glowed warmly in my heart as I was led into the large 
room in which about two hundred other patients awaited 
examination and word whether they would be sent home 
or considered fit to be returned to the front. 

The chairman of the commission was a General. As 
my turn came and he reached the name of Maria Botch- 
kareva he thought it a mistake and corrected it to Marin 
Botchkarev. By that name I was called out of the crowd. 

'^Razdievaysiar'* the General bawled the order that 
was given to every soldier awaiting discharge. 

I walked up determinedly and threw off my clothes. 

"A woman!" went up from a couple of hundred 
throats, followed by an outburst of laughter that shook 
the building. The members of the commission were too 
amazed for words. 

"What the devil!" cried the General. "Why did you 
undress ?" 

"I am a soldier, Excellency, and I obey orders without 
question," I replied. 

"Well, well. Hurry up and dress," came the order. 

"How about the examination. Excellency?" I queried, 
as I put my things on. 

"That's all right. You are passed." 

• Undress. 



In view of the seriousness of the wound I had sustained 
the commission offered me a couple of months' leave, but 
I declined the opportunity and requested to be sent to 
the front in a few days. Supplied with fifteen rubles and 
a railroad ticket, I left the grounds of the hospital and 
went to Daria Maximovna, who had invited me previ- 
ously to stay with her for a while. It was a stay of short 
duration, lasting only three days, but of genuine delight 
It was so pleasant to be in a home again, eat home food 
and be under the care of a woman who became to me a 
second mother. With packages for myself and Stepan 
and the blessings of the whole family following me, I 
left Moscow from the Nikolaiev Station. The train was 
crowded and there was only standing room. 

On the platform my attention was attracted to a poor 
woman with a nursing baby in her arms, another tot on 
the floor and a girl of about five hanging on to her skirt. 
All the woman's property was packed in a single bag. 
The children were crying for bread, the woman tried to 
calm them, evidently in dread of something. It touched 
my heart to watch this little group, and I offered some 
bread to the children. 

Then the woman confided in me the cause for her fean 
She had no money and no ticket and expected to be put 
off at the next station. She was the wife of a soldier 
from a village in German hands and was now bound for 
a town three thousand versts away, where she had some 
relatives. Something simply had to be done for this 
woman. I made an appeal to the soldiers that filled the 
car, but they did not respond immediately. 

"She is the wife of a soldier, of one like you," I said. 
"Suppose she were the wife of one of you 1 For all you 
know, the wives of some of you here may be floating 
about the country in a similar state. Come, let us get off 


at the next station, go to the statlon-^naster and request 
for her permission to go to her destination." 

The soldiers softened and helped me to take the 
woman and her belongings ofi the train at the next stop. 
We went to the station-master, who was very kind, but 
explained that he could do nothing in the matter. *'I 
have no right to give permission to travel without a 
ticket, and I can't distribute tickets free," he said, send- 
ing us to the military commandant. I went along with 
the woman, deserted by the soldiers, who had heard the 
train whistle and did not wish to miss it. I remained for 
another train. 

The commandant repeated the words of the station- 
master. He had no right to provide her with a military 
pass, he said. 

"No right 1" I exclaimed, beside myself. "She is the 
wife of a soldier and her husband is probably now, at 
this very moment, going into battle to defend the coun- 
try, while you, safe and well-fed in the rear here, won't 
even take care of his wife and children. It is an outrage. 
Look at the woman. She needs medical attention, and 
her children are starved." 

"And who are you?" sharply asked the commandant. 

"I will show you who I am," I answered, taking off 
my medals and cross and showing him my certificate. 
"I have shed enough blood to be entitled to demand 
justice for the helpless wife of a soldier." 

The commandant turned away and went out. There 
was nothing to be done but make a collection. I made 
my way into the First-Class waiting room, which was 
filled with officers and well-to-do passengers, took my 
jcap in my hand and went the rounds, begging for a poor 
soldier's wife. When T got through there were eighty 
rubles In the cap. With this money I went to the com- 
mandant again, turned it over to him with a request that 


he provide accommodations for the woman and her chil- 
dren, who did not know how to express her gratitude 
to me. 

The next train pulled in. I never before saw one so 
packed. There could be no thought of getting inside a 
car. The only space available was on the top of a coach. 
There were plenty of passengers even there. With the 
aid of some soldiers I climbed to the top, where I spent 
two days and two nights. It was impossible to get off 
at every station to take a walk. Even for the tea we had 
to send emissaries, and our food consisted of that and 

Accidents were not uncommon. On the very roof on 
which I traveled a man fell asleep and rolled off, being 
killed instantly. I almost suffered a similar fate, escaping 
by a hair's breadth. I began to doze and drifted to the 
edge, and had not a soldier caught me at the very last 
moment I would undoubtedly have gone over. We finally 
arrived at Kiev. 

That journey on the train was the symbol of the coun- 
try's condition in the winter of 191 6. The government 
machinery was breaking down. The soldiers had lost 
faith in their superiors, and the view that they were 
being led to slaughter by the thousands prevailed in many 
minds. Rumors flew thick and fast. The old soldiers 
were killed off and the fresh drafts were impatient for 
the end of the war. The spirit of 19 14 was no more. 

In Kiev I had to obtain information as to the location 
of my Regiment. It was now near the town of Beres- 
techko. In my absence the boys had advanced fifteen 
versts. The train from Kiev was also badly crowded 
and offered nothing but standing room. At stations we 
sent out a few soldiers to fill our kettles with hot water. 
The men could seldom get in and out through the en- 
trances, so they used the windows. The train passed 


through Zhitomir and Zhmerinka on the way to Lutzk. 
There I changed to a branch road, going to the station 
Verba, within thirty versts of our position. 

It was muddy on the road to the front. Overhead flew 
whole flocks of aeroplanes, raining bombs. I got used to 
them. In the afternoon there was a downpour, and I was 
thoroughly soaked. Dead tired, with water streaming 
from my clothes, I arrived in the evening within five 
versts of the first line. There was a regimental supply 
train camping on both sides of the road. I approached 
a sentry with the question : 

"What Regiment is billeted here?" 

"The Twenty-Eighth Polotsk Regiment." 

My heart leaped with joy. The soldier did not recog- 
nize me. He was a new man. But the boys must have 
told him of me. 

"I am Yashka," I said. 

That was a pass. They all knew the name and had 
heard from the veterans of the Regiment many stories 
about me. I was taken to the Colonel in command of 
the supply train, a funny old chap who kissed me on both 
cheeks and jumped about, clapping his hands and shout- 
ing, "Yashka ! Yashka 1" 

He was kind-hearted and immediately became solici- 
tous for me. He promptly ordered an orderly to bring 
a new outfit and had the bath, used by the officers, pre- 
pared for me. Clean and in the new uniform, I accepted 
the invitation to sup with the Colonel. There were sev- 
eral other officers at the table and all were glad to see me. 
The word went out that Yashka had arrived, and some 
soldiers could not restrain their desire to shake hands 
with me. Every now and then there would be a meek 
knock at the door and in answer to the Colonel's^ques- 
tion, "Who's there?" a plaintive voice would say: 

"Excellency, may I be allowed to see Yashka?" 


In time quite a number of comrades were admitted Into 
the house. One part of it was occupied by the owner, a 
widow with a young daughter. I spent the night with the 
latter and in the morning started out to the front. Some of 
our companies were in reserve and my progress became 
a triumphal journey. I was feasted on the way and given 
several ovations. 

I presented myself to the Commander of the Regiment, 
who invited me to dine that afternoon with the Regi- 
mental Staff, unquestionably the first case of an under- 
ofEcer receiving such an invitation in the history of the 
Regiment. At dinner the Commander toasted me, telling 
the history of my service with the Regiment and wishing 
me many more years of such service. 

At the conclusion he pinned a cross of the 3d degree 
on my breast, marked with a pencil three stripes on my 
shoulder, thus promoting me to the grade of senior un- 
der-officer. The Staff crowded around me, pressing my 
hands, praising me and expressing their best wishes. I 
was profoundly shaken with this demonstration of sin- 
cere appreciation and affection on the part of the officers. 
This was ray reward for all the suffering I had undergone. 

And it was a reward very much worth while. What 
did I care for a wound in the spine and a four months' 
paralysis If this was the return that I received for ray 
sacrifice? Trenches filled with bloody corpses held no 
horror for me then. No Man's Land seemed quite an 
attractive place In which to spend a day with a bleeding 
leg. The screech of shells and the whistle of bullets 
presented themselves like music to my imagination. Ah, 
life was not so bleak and futile, after all. It had Its mo- 
ments of bliss that compensated for years of torment and 

The Commander had. In his order of the day, stated 
the fact of my return and promotion. He furnished me 


an orderly to show me the way to the trenches. Again I 
was hailed by everybody as I emerged from the dugout 
of the Commander of the Company, who had placed me 
in charge of a platoon of seventy men. In this capacity 
I was to keep an inventory of the supplies and equipment 
of my men, for which purpose I had a soldier perform 
the duties of a clerk. 

Our positions were on the bank of the Styr, which is 
very narrow and shallow in that section. On the oppo- 
site bank were the German trenches. Several hundred 
feet from us was a bridge across the stream that had been 
left intact by both sides. At our end of it we maintained 
a post while the enemy kept a similar watch at the oppo- 
site end. Our line, because of the irregularity of the 
river^s course, was extremely zigzagged. The Germans 
were very active at mine-throwing. However, the mines 
traveled so slowly that we could take to cover before 
they fell on our side. My Company occupied a position 
close to the enemy's first line. 

I had not spent a month in the trenches when a local 
battle occurred which resulted in my capture by the Ger- 
mans. They had conducted their mine-throwing opera- 
tions for a period of about twelve days so regularly that 
we grew accustomed to them, expecting no attack. Be- 
sides, it was after the fighting season, and the cold was 

One morning about six o'clock, when we had turned in 
for our daily sleep, we were suddenly awakened by a tre- 
mendous "Hurrah 1" We nervously seized our rifles and 
peeped through the loop-holes. Great Heavens 1 There, 
within a hundred feet of us, in front and in the rear, the 
Germans were wading the Styr ! Before we had time to 
organize resistance they were upon us, capturing five 
hundred of our men. I was in the batch taken. 

We were brought before the German Staff for exami- 


nation. Every one of us was grilled with questions, in- 
tended to draw out valuable military information. 
Threats were made to those who refused to disclose 
anything. Some cowards among us, especially those of 
non-Russian stock, gave away important facts. As the 
test was proceeding our artillery on the other side opened 
up a violent bombardment of the German defenses. It 
was evident that the German Commander did not have 
many reserves, as he made frantic appeals by wire for 
support. It required quite a force to keep us under 
guard and even a larger force to take us to the rear. As 
the enemy momentarily expected a Russian attack, he 
decided not to send us away before help arrived. 

"So I am a German prisoner," I thought. "How un- 
expected! There is still hope that the boys on the other 
side will come to our rescue. Only, every minute is 
precious. They must hurry or we are lost. Here, my 
turn is coming. What will I tell them? I must deny 
being a soldier and invent some kind of a story." 

"I am a woman and not a soldier," I announced as 
soon as I was called. 

"Are you of noble blood?" I was asked. 

"Yes," I answered, simultaneously deciding to claim 
that I was a Red Cross nurse, dressed in man's uniform, 
in order to pay a visit to my husband, an officer in the 
front line trenches. 

"Have you many women fighting in the ranks?" was 
the next question. 

"I don't know. I told you that I was not a soldier." 

"What were you doing in the trenches, then?" 

"I came to see my husband, who is an officer of the 

"Why did you shoot, then? The soldiers tell that you 
shot at them." 

"I did it to defend myself. I was afraid to be cap- 


tured. I serve as a Red Cross nurse in the rear hospital, 
and came over to the fighting line for a visit." 

The Russian fire was growing hotter every minute. 
Some of our shells wounded not only enemy soldiers but 
several of the captives. Noon had arrived, but the Ger- 
mans were too nervous to eat their lunch. The expected 
reserves were not forthcoming, and there was every 
sign of a fierce counter-attack by our troops. 

At two o'clock our soldiers went over the top and 
started for the German positions. The enemy Com- 
mander decided to retreat with his batch of prisoners 
to the second line rather than defend the front trenches. 
It was a critical moment. As we were lined up the "Hur- 
rah" of our comrades reached us. It stimulated us to a 
spontaneous decision. 

We threw ourselves, five hundred strong, at our cap- 
tors, wrested many of their rifles and bayonets and en- 
gaged in a ferocious hand-to-hand combat, just as our 
men rushed through the torn wire entanglements into 
the trenches. The confusion was indescribable; the kill- 
ing merciless. I grasped five hand-grenades that lay near 
me and threw them at a group of about ten Germans. 
They must have all been killed. Our entire line across 
the river was advancing at the same time. The first 
German line was occupied by our troops and both banks 
of the Styr were then in our hands. 

Thus ended my captivity. I was in German hands 
for a period of only eight hours and amply avenged even 
this brief stay. There was great activity among us for a 
couple of days. We fortified the newly-won positions 
and prepared for another attack at the foe. Two days 
later we received the signal to advance. But again our 
artillery had failed to cut the German wire defenses. 
After pushing on against the withering fire and incurring 
heavy losses, we were compelled to retreat, leaving many 


of our comrades wounded and dying on the field of 

Our Commander improvised a relief party by calling 
for twenty volunteers. I responded among the first. 
Provided with twenty red crosses which we prominently 
displayed, and leaving our rifles in the trenches, we went 
out in the open daylight to rescue the wounded. I was 
allowed to proceed by the Germans almost to their 
barbed wire. Then, as I leaned over a wounded man 
whose leg was split, I heard the click of a trigger and 
immediately flattened myself against the ground. Five 
bullets whistled over me, one after another, most of 
which landed in the wounded soldier, killing him outright. 
I continued to lie motionless, and the German sniper was 
evidently satisfied that he had killed me as well. I re- 
mained in this position till night, when I crawled back 
to our trenches. 

Of the twenty Red Cross volunteers only five returned 

The following day an order of thanks was issued by 
the Commander to all those soldiers who had been cap- 
tured three days previous and took the initiative to save 
themselves by fighting their captors. My name appeared 
first on the list. Those of us who had refused to give any 
information to the enemy were praised in the order. One 
soldier, who had revealed to the Germans many vital 
things, was executed. I was recommended for a cross 
of the 2d degree, but, being a woman, I received only a 
medal of the 3d degree. 

We met the year 19 17 while resting three versts in the 
rear. There was much fun-making and merriment in the 
reserve billets. Although the discipline was as strict as 
ever, the relations between the officers and men had un- 
dergone, in the three and a half years of the war, a com- 
plete transformation. 


The older officers, trained in pre-war conditions, were 
now gone, having died in battle or been disabled. The 
new junior officers, all young men taken from civil fife, 
many Of Ihemformer students and school teachers, were 
liberal in their views and very human in their treatment. 
They mixed freely with the men in the ranks and al- 
lowed us more liberty than we had ever enjoyed. At the 
New Year festival we all danced together. These new 
relations were not entirely due to the new attitude from 
laBove. In a sense, they were generated from below by 
a dumb and yet potent undercurrent of restlessness. 

We were reviewed before returning to the front line 
by General Valuyev, the Commander of the Fifth Corps. 
I was presented to him by our Commander. The General 
shook my hand warmly, remarking that he had heard 
many praiseworthy things of me. 

Our positions were now on a hill, in the vicinity of 
Zelenaya Kolonia, while the enemy was at our feet in 
the valley. The trenches we occupied had been in Ger- 
man hands some time before. 

It was late in January when I made an expedition into 
No Man's Land at the head of a patrol of fifteen men. 
We crawled along a ditch that was formerly a German 
communication trench. It ran along a very exposed part 
of the field and the utmost caution was exercised by us. 
As we came nearer to the enemy's trench line I thought 
I heard German conversation. Leaving ten men behind, 
with instructions to rush to our aid in case of a fight, five 
of us crept forward at a snail's pace and with perfect 
noiselessness. The German voices grew clearer and 

Finally we beheld a German listening-post. There 
were four of them, all seated with their backs toward us. 
Their rifles were scattered on the ground while they 
warmed their hands over a fire. Two of my men stretched 

134 yASHKA 

their hands out, reached the rifles and removed them. It 
was a painstaking operation, as slow as eternity. The 
Germans chattered on unconcernedly. As I was cau- 
tiously going after the third rifle two of the Germans, 
having apparently heard a noise, were about to turn. 

In an instant my men were upon them. The two were 
bayoneted before I had an opportunity to realize what 
was on. It was my intention to bring in the four alive. 
The other two Germans were safe in our hands. 

In all my experience in patrol duty, and I must have 
participated in at least a hundred expeditions into No 
Man's Land, it was the first case of a German listening- 
post being caught in such a manner. We returned tri- 
umphantly with our prizes. 

One of the prisoners was a tall, red-headed fellow, the 
other was evidently an educated person, with pince-nez. 
We took them to Regimental Headquarters, accompanied 
on the way by numerous ovations and congratulations. 
The Commander inquired as to the details of the capture 
and had them recorded verbatim. He congratulated me, 
pressing my hand, and so did all the other officers, telling 
me that my name would live forever in the annals of the 
Polotsk Regiment. I was recommended for a gold cross 
of the 1st degree and given two days' leave for recupera- 
tion in the village. 

At the end of the two days my Company joined me in 
the reserve. Strange things were occurring in our midst. 
In subdued voices the men repeated dark rumors about 
Rasputin's death. Wild stories about his connections 
with the Court and Germany were communicated from 
mouth to mouth. The spirit of insubordination was 
growing in the soldiers' midst. It was still suppressed at 
that rime. The men were weary, terribly weary of the 
war. "How long shall we continue this fighting?" and 
"What are we fighting for?" were on the lips of every- 


body. Tt was the fourth winter and still there was no 
end in sight. 

Our boys were genuinely anxious to solve the great 
puzzle that the war had become to them. Hadn't it been 
proven again and again that the officers at Headquar- 
ters were selling them to the enemy? Hadn't a multitude 
of reports reached them that the Court was pro-German ? 
Hadn't they heard of the War Minister placed under 
arrest and charged with being a traitor? Wasn't it clear, 
jtherefore, that the Government, the officiaf class, was with 
the^nemy? Then why continue indefinitely this carnage? 
If the Government was in alliance with Germany, what 
prevented it from concluding peace? Was it the desire 
to have millions more of them slaughtered? 

This was the riddle that forced itself upon the peasant 
joaind. It was complicated by a hundred other sugges- 
tions that were injected into his brain from various chan- 
nels. Depressed in spirit, discouraged and sullen in ap- 
pearance was the Russian soldier in February, 19 17. 

We returned to our positions and took up the heavy 
burden. It was not long before an attack was organized 
against the German line. Our artillery again displayed 
little effectiveness and again we climbed out of the 
trenches and swept across No Man's Land while the 
enemy's wire defenses were intact. It was not the first 
wave of Russian breasts that had beaten itself in vain 
against that parapet of death, to be hurled back with 
grave losses without even coming to grips with the foe. 
But each of those waves had left its quantity of bitter- 
ness in the hearts of the survivors. And it was a par- 
ticularly leavening dose of bitterness that this last futile 
attack had left in the souls of the soldiers of our sector. 

Nevertheless, in February, 191 7, the front was un- 
prepared for the eruption that was to shake the world 
soon. The front maintained its fierce hatred for the 


Germans and could conceive of no righteous peace other- 
wise than through the efficient organization of a gigantic 
offensive against the enemy. Injthe way of such an of- 
fensive was the treasonable Government Against this 
Government were directed the indignation and suppressed 
dissatisfaction of the rank and file. But so old, so sta- 
ble, so deep-rooted was the institution of Tsarism that, 
with all their secret contempt for the Court, with all the 
hidden hatred for the officials of the Government, the 
armies at the front were not ripe yet for a conscious and 
deliberate rising. 




THE first swallow to warn us of the approaching 
storm was a soldier from our Company who had 
returned from a leave of absence at Petrograd. 

"Oh, my 1 If you but knew, boys, what is going on in 
the rear I Revolution! Everywhere they talk of over- 
throwing the Tsar. The capital is aflame with revolu- 

These words spread like wildfire among the men. 
They gathered in knots and discussed the possibilities of 
the report. Would it mean peace ? Would they get land 
and freedom ? Or would it mean another huge offensive 
before the end of the war? The arguments, of course, 
took place in whispers, behind the backs of the officers. 
The consensus of opinion seemed to be that revolution 
meant preparation for a general attack against the Ger- 
mans to win a victory before the conclusion of peace. 

For several days the air was charged with electricity. 
Everybody felt that earth-quaking events were taking 
place and our hearts echoed the distant rumblings of the 
raging tempest. There was something reticent about the 
looks and manners of the officers, as if they kept impor- 
tant news to themselves. 

Finally, the joyous news arrived. The Commander 
gathered the entire Regiment to read to us the glorious 
words of the first manifesto, together with the famous 
Order No. i. The miracle had happened 1 Tsarism, 
which enslaved us and thrived on the blood an^ marrow 



of the toiler, had fallen. Freedom, Equality and Broth- 
erhood I How sweet were these words to our ears ! We 
were transported. There were tears of joy, embraces, 
dancing. It all seemed a dream, a wonderful dream. 
Who ever believed that the hated regime would be de- 
stroyed so easily and in our own time? 

The Commander read to us the manifesto, which con- 
cluded with a fervent appeal to us to hold the line with 
greater vigilance than ever, now that we were free citi- 
zens, to defend our newly won liberty from the attacks 
of the Kaiser and his slaves. Would we defend our 
freedom? A multitude of throats shouted in a chorus, 
that passed over No Man's Land and reverberated in 
the German trenches, **Yes, we will 1" 

Would we swear allegiance to the Provisional Gov- 
ernment, which wanted us to prepare to drive the Ger- 
mans out of Free Russia before we returned home to 
divide the land? 

"We swear I" thundered thousands of men, raising 
their right hands, and thoroughly alarming the enemy. 

Then came Order No. i, signed by the Petrograd 
Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers. Soldiers and officers 
were now equal, it declared. All the citizens of the Free 
Russia were equal henceforth. There would be no more 
discipline. The hated officers were enemies of the people 
and should no longer be obeyed and kept at their posts. 
The common soldier would now rule the army. Let the 
rank and file elect their best men and institute commit- 
tees ; let there be Company, Regimental, Corps and Army 

We were dazzled by this shower of brilliant phrases. 
The men went about as if intoxicated. For four days 
the festival continued unabated, so wild with the spirit 
of jubilation were the boys. The Germans could not at 


first understand the cause of our celebration. When they 
learned it they ceased firing. 

There were meetings, meetings and meetings. Day 
and night the Regiment seemed to be in continuous ses- 
sion, listening to speeches that dwelt almost exclusively 
on the words of peace and freedom. The men were hun- 
gry for beautiful phrases and gloated over them. 

All duty was abandoned in the first few days. While 
the great upheaval had affected me profoundly, and the 
first day or two I shared completely the ecstasy of the 
men, I awoke early to a sense of responsibility. I gath- 
ered from the manifestoes and speeches that what was 
demanded of us was to hold the line with much more 
energy than before. Wasn't this the concrete signifi- 
cance for us of the Revolution? To my questions the 
soldiers replied affirmatively, but had no power of will 
to tear themselves away from the magic circle of speech- 
making and visions. Still dazed, they appeared to me 
like lunatics at large. The front became a veritable in- 
sane asylum. 

One day, in the first week of the revolution, I ordered 
a soldier to take up duty at the listening-post. He re- 

**I will take no orders from a baba/* he snorted, "I can 
do as I please. We have freedom now.** 

I was painfully stunned. Why, this very same soldier 
would have gone through fire for me a week before. And 
now he was sneering at me. It seemed so incredible. 
It was overwhelming. 

**Ha, ha," he railed. "You can go yourself." 

Flushed with chagrin, I seized a rifle and answered : 

"Can I ? I will show you how a free citizen ought to 
guard his freedom I" 

And I climbed over the top and made my way to the 


listening-post where I remained on duty for the full two 

I talked to the soldiers, appealing to their sense of 
honor and arguing that the revolution imposed greater 
responsibilities upon the man in the ranks. They agreed 
that the defense of the country was the most important 
task confronting us. But didn^t the revolution bring 
them also freedom, with the injunction to create their 
own control of the army, and the abolition of discipline? 
The men were in a high state of enthusiasm, but obedi- 
ence was contrary to their ideas of liberty. Seeing that 
I could not get my men to perform their duties, I went 
to the Commander of the Company and asked to be re- 
leased from the army and sent home. 

*'I see no good in sticking here and doing nothing," I 
said. "If this is war, then I want to be out of it. I can't 
get my men to do anything." 

"Have you gone insane, Yashka?" the Commander 
asked. "Why, if you, who are a peasant yourself, one 
of them, beloved by all the rank and file, can't remain, 
then what should we officers do? It is the obligation of 
the service that we stay to the last, till the men awake. 
I am having my own troubles, Yashka," he confided, in a 
low voice. "I can't have my way, either. So you sec, 
we are all in the same boat. We have got to stick it 

It was abhorrent to my feelings, but I remained. Lit- 
tle by little things improved. The soldiers' committees 
began to function, but did not interfere with the purely 
military phases of our life. Those of the officers who 
had been disliked by the men, or who had had records 
typical of Tsaristic officials, disappeared with the revo- 
lution. Even Colonel Stubendorf, the Commander of 
the Regiment, was gone, retiring perhaps because of his 


German name. Our new Commander was Kudriavtzev, 
a popular officer. 

Discipline was gradually reestablished. It was not the 
old discipline. Its basis was no longer dread of punish- 
ment. It was a discipline founded on the high sense of 
responsibility that was soon instilled into the gray mass 
of soldiery. True, there was no fighting between us and 
the enemy. There were even the beginnings of the frater- 
nization plague that later destroyed the mighty Russian 
Army. But the soldiers responded to the appeals from 
the Provisional Government and the Soviet in the early 
weeks of the spring of 19 17. They were ready to carry 
out unflinchingly any order from Petrograd. 

Those were still the days of immense possibilities. The 
men worshipped the distant figures in the rear who had 
brought them the boon of liberty and equality. -WeJmew 
almost nothing of the various parties and factions. Peace 
was the sole thought of the men. They were told that 
peace could not come without defeating or overthrowing 
the Kaiser. We, therefore, all expected the word for a 
general advance. Had that word been given at that time 
nothing in the world could have withstood our pressure. 
Nothing. The revolution had given birth to elemental 
forces in our hearts that defied and ever will defy de- 

Then there began a pilgrimage of speakers. There 
were delegates from the army, there were members of the 
Duma, there were emissaries of the Petrograd Soviet. 
Almost every day there was a meeting, and almost every 
other day there were elections. We sent delegates to 
Corps Headquarters and delegates to Army Headquar- 
ters, delegates to a congress in Petrogad and delegates to 
consult with the Government. The speakers were almost 
all eloquent. They painted beautiful pictures of Russia's 
future, of universal brotherhood, of happiness and pros- 

^ V \ 


pmty. The soldiers* eyes would light up with the glow 
of hope. More than once even I was caught by those 
enticing traps of eloquence. The rank and file were car- 
ried away to an enchanted land by the orators and re- 
warded them with tremendous ovations. 

There were speakers of a different kind, too. These 
solemnly appealed for a realization of the immediate duty 
which the revolution imposed upon the shoulders of the 
army, ^triotism was their keynote. They called us to 
defend our country, to be ready at any moment for an 
attack to drive the Germans out and win the much-desired 
victory and peace. The soldiers responded to these calls 
to duty with equal enthusiasm. They were ready, they 
would swear. Was there any doubt that they were ? No. 
The Russian soldier loved his Mother Country before. 
He loved her a hundred-fold now. 

The first signs of spring arrived. The rivers had 
broken, the ice fields had thawed. It was muddy, but 
the earth was fragrant. The winds were laden with in- 
toxicating odors. They were carrying across the vast 
fields and valleys of Mother-Russia tidings of a new era. 
There was spring in our souls. It seemed that our long- 
suffering people and country were being born for a new 
life, and one wanted to live, live, live. 

But there, a few hundred feet away, were the Ger- 
mans. They were not free. Their souls did not com- 
mune with God. Their hearts knew, not the immense 
joy of this unusual spring. They were still slaves, and 
they would not let us alone in our freedom. They 
stretched themselves over the fair lands of our coimtry 
and would not retire. They had to be removed before 
we could embark upon a life of peace. We were ready 
to remove them. We were awaiting the order to leap 
at their throats and show them what Free Russia could 


do. But why was the order postponed? Why wait? 
Why not strike while the iron was hot? 

Yet the iron was allowed to cool. There was an ocean 
of talk in the rear; there was absolute inactivity at the 
front. And as hours grew into days and days into weeks 
there sprang forth out of this inactivity the first sprouts 
of fraternization. 

"Come over here for a drink of tea I" a voice from our 
trenches would addsess itself across No Man's Land to 
the Germans. And voices from there would respond : 

"Come over here for a drink of vodka 1'* 

For several days they did not go beyond such mutual 
sunmions. Then one morning a soldier from our midst 
came out openly into No Man's Land, announcing that 
he wanted to talk things over. He stopped in the center 
of the field, where he was met by a German and engaged 
in an argument. From both sides soldiers flocked to the 

"Why do you continue the war?" asked our men. 
"We have thrown over the Tsar and we want peace, but 
your Kaiser insists on war. Throw over your Kaiser 
and then both sides will go home." 

"You don't know the truth," answered the German. 
"You are deceived. Why, our Kaiser offered peace to 
all the Allies last winter. But your Tsar refused to make 
peace. And now your Allies are forcing Russia to con- 
tinue in the war. We are always ready for peace." 

I was with the soldiers in No Man's Land and saw how 
the German argument impressed them. Some of the 
Germans had brought vodka along and gave it to our 
boys. While they were returning to the positions, en- 
gaged in heated arguments over the story of the Kaiser's 
peace offer. Commander Kudriavtzev came out to ad- 
monish them.^ 

"What are you doing, boys ? Don't you know tfiat the 





Germans are our enemies? They want to entrap you. 

**KiU himl" a voice shouted in the crowd. "Enough 
have we been deceived 1 Kill him 1" 

The Commander got out of the way quickly before the 
crowd had caught up the shout of the ruffian. This inci- 
dent, when the revolution was still in its cradle, was an 
early symptom of the malady to which the Russian army 
succumbed in months to come. It was still an easily 
curable malady. But where was t|ie seer-physician to 
diagnose the disease at its inception and uproot it then? 

We were relieved and sent to the reserve billets. There 
a mass meeting was organized in honor of a delegate 
from the Army Committee who came to address us. He 
was welcomed by Kryloy, one of our enlightened soldiers, 
who spoke well and to the point. 

**So long as the Germans keep their Kaiser and obey 
him we will not have peace," he declared. The Kaiser 
wants to rob Russia of many provinces and subject their 
populations. The German soldiers do his will just as 
you did the will of the Tsar. Isn't that the truth?" 

"The truth! The truth, indeed I Right I" the multi- 
tude roared. 

"Now," resumed Krylov, "the Kaiser liked the Tsar 
and was related to him. But the Kaiser does not and 
cannot love Free Russia. He is afraid that the German 
people will learn from us and start a revolution in thdir 
country. He is, therefore, seeking to destroy our free- 
dom because he wants to keep his throne. Is this plain?" 

"Yes I Yes! Good! It's the truth!" shouted thou- 
sands of throats, cheering wildly for Krylov. 

"Therefore," continued the speaker, "it is our duty to 
defend the country and the precious liberty from the 
Kaiser. If we don't destroy him, he will destroy us. If 
we defeat him, there will be a revolution in his land and 
the German people will throw him over. Then our free- 


dom will be secure. Then we will go home and take pos- 
session of all the available land. But we can^t return 
home with an enemy at our back. Can we?" S 

**NoI Nol Nol Sure not!" thundered the swaying 
mass of soldiery. 

"And we can't make peace with a ruler who hates us at 
heart and who was the secret associate of the Tsar. Isn't 
this correct?" 

"Correct I Correct! The truth! Hurrah for Kry- 
lov !" bawled the vast gathering, applauding strenuously. 

Then the delegate from the Army Committee mounted 
the speaker's stool. The soldiers were in high spirits, 
thirsting for every word of enlightenment. 

"Comrades!" the delegate opened up. "For three 
years we have bled, suffered from hunger and cold, wal- 
lowed in the muddy and vermin-eaten trenches. Myriads 
of our brethren have been slaughtered, maimed for life, 
taken into captivity. Whose war was it? The Tsar's. 
He made us fight and perish while he and his clique 
bathed in gold and luxury. Now the Tsar is no more. 
Why, then, comrades, should we continue his war? Do 
you want to lay down your lives again by the thousand?" 

"No! No! No! We have had enough of war!" 
thousands of voices rang out. 

"Well," continued the delegate, "I agree with you. 
We have had enough of war, indeed. You are told that 
our enemy is in front of us. But what about our enemies 
in the rear? What about the officers who are now leav- 
ing the front and scurrying to cover? What about the 
land-owners who are holding fast to the large estates 
donated to them by former Tsars? What about the 
bourgeoisie who have sucked our blood for generations 
and grown rich through our sweat and toil? Where 
are they all now? What do they want with us? They 
want you to fight the enemy here so that they, the enemies 


of the people, can pillage and loot in the rear I So ^at 
when you come home, if you live to come home, you will 
find all the land and the wealth of the country in their 
hands I" 

"It is the truth! The truth 1 He's right I" interrupted 
the vast crowd. 

"Now you have two enemies," resumed the speaker. 
"One is foreign and the other domestic. You can't fight 
both at once. If we continue the war the enemy at your 
back will rob you of the freedom, the land and the rights 
that the revolution won for you. Therefore, we must 
have peace with the Germans in order to be able to com- 
bat the bourgeois bloodsuckers. Isn't that so?" 

"Yes ! Yes I It's the truth ! It's correct 1 We want 
peace I .We are tired of the war !" came in a chorus from 
every side. 

The passions of the soldiers were inflamed. The del- 
egate was right, they said. If they continued to sit in 
the trenches they would be robbed of the land and the 
fruits of the new freedom, they argued among themselves 
heatedly. It ached my heart to see the effect of the ora- 
tor's words. All the impression of Krylov's speech had 
been eradicated. The Very same boys who so enthusias- 
tically acclaimed his call to duty now applauded just as 
fervidly, if not more so, the appeal of the delegate for 
a fratricidal war. It maddened me. I could not con- 
trol myself. 

"You stupid asses !" I burst out. "You can be turned 
one minute one way, the other minute in an opposite di- 
rection. Didn't you cheer Krylov's truthful words when 
he said that the Kaiser was our enemy and that we must 
drive him out of Russia first before we can have peace ? 
And now you have been incited to start a civil war so 
that the Kaiser can walk over Russia and take it all into 
his grip. This is warl War, you understand, war I 


And in war there can be no compromise with the enemy. 
Give him an inch and he will take a mile I Come, let's 
get down to work. Let's fulfil our duty." 

There was a commotion among the soldiers. Some ex* 
pressed their dissatisfaction loudly. 

"Why stand here and listen to this silly babaf sounded 

"Give her a shovel" shouted another. 

"Kick her I" cried a third. 

In a moment I was being handled roughly. Blows 
showered on me from every side. 

"What are you doing, boys? Why, that is Yashkal 
Have you gone crazy?" I heard a friendly voice appeal 
to the men. Other comrades hurried to my aid and I 
was rescued without suffering much injury. But I de- 
cided to ask for leave to go home and get away from 
this war without warfare. I would not be thwarted by 
the Commander. No, not this time. 

The following day Michael Rodzianko, the President 
of the Duma, arrived at our sector. We were formed 
for review, and although the men were somewhat lax in 
discipline they made up for it in«enthusiasm. Rodzianko 
was given a stormy ovation as he appeared before the 

"The responsibility for Russia," he said, "which rested 
before on the shoulders of the Tsar and his Government 
now rests on the people, on you. This is what freedom 
means. It means that we must, of our own volition, de- 
fend the country against the foe. It means that we must 
all get together, forget our differences and quarrels and 
present a solid front to the Germans. They are subtle and 
hypocritical. They talk to you sweetly but their hearts 
are full of hatred. They claim to be your brothers, but 
they are your enemies. They seek to divide us so that 


it will be easier for them to destroy our liberty and coun- 

"True I True! Right! Right! It is so! It is sol" the 
throng voiced its approval. 

"Free Russia will never be secure until the Kaiser's 
soldiers are driven out of Russia," the speaker contin- 
ued. "We must, therefore, prepare for a general offen- 
sive to win a great victory. We must work together with 
our Allies who are helping us to defeat the Germans. 
We must respect and obey our officers, as there can be 
no army without chiefs, just as there can be no flock with- 
out a shepherd." 

"Correct! Correct! Well said! It's the truth! It's the 
truth!" the soldiers shouted from every corner. 

"Now, boys, tell me what you think of launching an 
attack against the foe?" asked the President of the Duma. 
"Are you ready to advance and die, if necessary, to secure 
our precious freedom?" 

"Yes, we are! We will go!" thundered the thousands 

Then Orlov, the chairman of the Regimental Commit- 
tee, an educated fellow, rose to answer for the rank and 
iile. He expressed what all of us at the front had in our 
minds : 

"Yes, we are ready to strike. But we want those mil- 
lions of soldiers in the rear, who spread all over the 
country, overflowing the cities, overcrowding all the rail- 
roads and doing nothing, returned to the front. Let's 
advance all together. The time for speeches has passed. 
We want action, or we will leave here." 

Comrade Orlov was boisterously acclaimed. Indeed, 
he said what we all so keenly felt. It wasn't just to the 
boys in the trenches to allow hundreds of thousands of 
their comrades to holiday in the rear without interruption. 
Rodzianko agreed with us. He would do his best to 


alter this inequality, he promised. But, privately, in re- 
ply to the insistent questions of the officers why the golden 
opportunity for an offensive was being wasted, he con- 
fessed, ihat. the Provisional Government and the Duma 
were powerless. 

"It is the Soviet, Kerensky and its other leading spirits, 
that have the say in such matters," he said. "They are 
shaping the policy of the country. I have urged on them 
not to delay, but to order a general attack immediately." 

Chairman Orlov then presented me to Rodzianko with 
a little speech in which he recounted my record since the 
beginning of the war. The President of the Duma was 
greatly surprised and moved. 

"I want to bow before this woman," he said, shaking 
my hand warmly. He then inquired as to my feeling 
about conditions at the front. I poured my bitter heart 

"I can't stand this new order of things. The soldiers 
don't fight the Germans any more. My object in joining 
the army was to defend the country. Now, it is impos- 
sible to do so. There is nothing left for me, therefore, 
but to leave." 

"But where are you going from here?" he asked. 

"I don't know. I suppose I will go home. My father 
is old, and my mother is sick, and they almost have to go 
begging for bread." 
c Rodzia^o patted me on the shoulder. 

on't you come to me in Petrograd, heroitchik? * I 
will see what I can do for you." 

I joyously accepted the invitation, and told the boys 
of my leaving soon. I was provided with a new outfit 
and one hundred rubles by the Commander. The word 
went out that Yashka was to depart and about a thousand 

* Little heroine. 

152 lYASHKA 

soldiers, many of whose lives I had saved in battle, pre- 
sented me with a testimonial. 

A thousand signatures I They were all the names of 
dear fellows who were attached to me by ties of fire and 
blood. There was a record, on that long scroll, of every 
battle which we had fought and of every episode of life- 
saving and self-sacrifice in which I had participated. It 
made my heart thump with joy and my eyes fill with tears, 
while deep in my soul something ached and yearned. 

It was May, but there was autumn in my breast. There 
was autumn also in the heart of Mother-Russia. The sun 
glowed dazzlingly. The fields and the forests rioted in all 
the glories of spring. There was peace in the trenches, 
calm in No Man's Land. My country was still exhilarat- 
ing in the festival of the newly born Freedom. It was 
scarcely two months old, this child of generations of pain 
and suffering. It came into being with the first warm 
wind, and how deep were the forces that it aroused in 
us, how infinite the promises it carried 1 My people still 
entertained the marvelous illusions of those first days. 
It was spring, the beginning of eternal spring to them. 

But my heart pined. All joy was dead in it. I heard 
the autumn winds howling. I felt instinctively an im- 
mense tragedy developing, and my soul went out to 

The entire Regiment was formed in line so that I could 
bid them farewell. I addressed myself to them as fol- 

"You know how I love you, how I cared for you. Who 
picked you up on the field of battle? Yashka. Who 
dressed your wounds under fire? Yashka. Who braved 
with you all dangers and shared with you all privations? 
A baba, Yashka. I bore with your insults and rejoiced 
in your caresses. I knew how to receive them both, be- 
cause I knew your souls. I could stand anything with 


you, but I can't stand this any longer. I can't bear fra- 
ternization with the enemy. I can't tolerate these cease- 
less meetings. I can't endure this endless chain of ora- 
tors and their empty phrases. It is time to act. The 
time for talk is gone. Otherwise, it will be too late. 
Our country and freedom are perishing. 

"Nevertheless, I love you and want to part from you 
as a friend." 

Here I stopped. I could not continue. The boys gave 
me a hearty good-by. They were sorry, very sorry, to 
lose me, they said, but of course I was entitled to my opin-j 
ion of the situation. They assured me that they respected 
me as ever and that, while on leave home, they had al- 
ways told their mothers to pray for me. And they swore 
that they would always be ready to lay down their lives 
for me. 

The Commander placed his victoria at my disposal to 
go to the railway station. A delegate from the Regiment 
was leaving the same day for Petrograd, and we went 
together. As the horses started, tearing me away from 
the men, who clasped my hands and wished me luck and 
Godspeed, something tore a big hole in my heart, and 
the world seemed desolate. • • • 



THE journey to Petrograd was uneventful. The 
train was crowded to capacity with returning sol- 
diers who engaged in arguments day and night. I was 
drawn into one such debate. Peace was the subject of 
all discussions, immediate peace. 

"But how can you have peace with the Germans occu- 
P3ring parts of Russia?" I broke in. "We must win a vic- 
tory first or our country will be lost." 

"Ah, she is for the old regime. She wants the Tsar 
back," murmured threateningly some soldiers. 

The delegate accompanying me here advised me to keep 
my mouth shut if I wanted to arrive safely in Petrograd. 
I heeded his advice. He left me at the station when we 
got to the capital. It was in the afternoon, and I had 
never been in Petrograd before. With the address of 
Rodzianko on my lips I went about making inquiries how 
to go there. I was finally directed to board a certain 

About five in the afternoon I found myself in front of 
a big house. For a moment I lost courage. "What if 
he has forgotten me? He may not be at home and no- 
body will know anything about me." I wanted to retreat, 
but where could I go ? I knew no one in the city. Mak- 
ing bold, I rang the bell and awaited the opening of the 
door with a trembling heart. A servant came out and I 
gave my name, with the information that I had just ar- 
rived from the front to see Rodzianko. I was taken up 




in an elevator, a novelty to me, and was met by the secre- 
tary to the Duma President. He greeted me warmly, 
saying that he had expected me and invited me to make 
myself at home. 

President Rodzianko then came out, exclaiming cheer- 

*'Heroitchik mine I I am glad you came," and he kissed 
me on the cheek. He then presented me to his wife as 
his heroitchik, pointing to my military decorations. She 
was very cordial and generous in her praise. **You have 
come just in time for dinner," she said, showing me into 
her bathroom to remove the dust of the journey. This 
warm reception heartened me greatly. 

At the table the conversation turned to the state of af- 
fairs at the front. Asked to tell of the latest develop- 
ments, I said, as nearly as I can remember: 

"The agitation to leave the trenches and go home is 
growing. If there will be no immediate offensive, all is 
lost. The soldiers will leave. It is also urgent to re- 
turn the troops now scattered in the rear to the fighting 

Rodzianko answered approximately: 

"Orders have been given to many units in the rear to 
go to the front. However, not all obeyed. There were 
demonstrations and protests on the part of several bodies, 
due to Bolshevist propaganda." 

That was the first time I ever heard of the Bolsheviki. 
It was May, 1917. 

"Who are they?" I asked. 

"They are a group, led by one Lenine, who just re- 
turned from abroad by way of Germany, and Trotzki, 
Kolontai and other political emigrants. They attend the 
meetings of the Soviet at the Taurida Palace, in which 
the Duma meets, incite to strife among classes, and call 
for immediate peace." 


I was further asked how Kerensky then stood with the 
soldiery, being informed that he had just left for a tour of 
the front. 

**Kerensky is very popular. In fact, the most popular 
man with the front. The men will do anything for him," 
I replied. 

Rodzianko then related an incident which made us all 
laugh. There was an old door-man in the Government 
Offices who had served many Ministers of the Tsar. 
Kerensky, it appeared, made it a habit to shake hands 
with everybody. So that whenever he entered his office 
he shook hands with the old door-man, quickly becoming 
the laughing-stock of the servants. 

"Now, what kind of a Minister is it," the old foot- 
man was overheard complaining to a fellow-servant, **who 
shakes hands with me?" 

After dinner Rodzianko took me to the Taurida Pal- 
ace, where he introduced me to a gathering of soldiers* 
delegates, then in session. I was given an ovation and 
a prominent seat. The speakers told of conditions at 
various sections of the front that tallied exactly with my 
own observations. Discipline was gone, fraternization 
was on the increase, the agitation to leave the trenches 
was gaining strength. Something had to be done quickly, 
they argued. How can the men be kept fit till the mo- 
ment when an offensive is ordered? That was the prob- 

Rodzianko arose and suggested that I be asked to offer 
a solution. He told them that I was a peasant who had 
volunteered early in the war and fought and suffered 
with the men. Therefore, he thought, I ought to know 
what was the right thing to do. Naturally, I was thrown 
into confusion. I was totally unprepared to make any 
suggestions and, therefore, begged to be excused for 
awhile till I thought the matter over. 


The session continued, while I sank deep into thought. 
For half an hour I raked my brain in vain. Then sud- 
denly an idea dawned upon me. It was the idea of a 
Women's Battalion of Death. 

"You heard of what I have gone through and what I 
have done as a soldier," I turned to the audience upon 
getting the floor. "Now, how would it do to organize 
three hundred women like me to serve as an example to 
the army and lead the men into battle?" 

Rodzianko approved of my idea. "Provided," he 
addedi ''we could find hundreds more like Maria Botch- 
kareva, which I greatly doubt." 

To this objection I replied that numbers were imma- 
terial, that what was important was to shame the men 
and that a few women at one place could serve as" an ex- 
ample to the entire front "It would be necessary that 
the women's organization should have no committees and 
be run on the regular army basis in order to enable it to 
serve as a restorative of discipline," I further explained. 

Rodzianko thought my suggestion splendid and pic^ 
tured the enthusiasm that would be bound to be provoked 
among the men in case of women occupying some trenches 
and taking the lead in an offensive. 

There were objections, however, from the floor. One 
delegate got up and said: 

"None of us will take exception to a soldier like Botch- 
kareva. The men of the front know her and have heard 
of her deeds. But who will guarantee that the other 
women will be as decent as she and will not dishonor 
the army?" 

Another delegate remarked: 

"Who will guarantee that the presence of women sol- 
diers at the front will not yield there little soldiers?" 

There was a general uproar at this criticism. I re- 
plied : 


''If I take up the organization of a women's battalion, 
I will hold myself responsible for every member of it. 
I would introduce rigid discipline and would allow no 
speech-making and no loitering in the streets. When 
Mother-Russia is drowning it is not a time to run an 
army by committees. I am a common peasant myself, 
and I know that only discipline can save the Russian 
Army. In the proposed battalion I would exercise abso- 
lute authority and get obedience. Otherwise, there would 
be no use in organizing it." 

There were no objections to the conditions which I 
outlined as preliminary to the establishment of such a 
unit. Still, I never expected that the Government would 
consider the matter seriously and permit me to carry out 
the idea, although I was informed that it would be sub- 
mitted to Kerensky upon his return from the front. 

President Rodzianko took a deep interest in the proj- 
ect. He introduced me to Captain Dementiev, Comman- 
dant of the Home for Invalids, asking him to place a 
room or two at my disposal and generally take care of 
me. I went home with the Captain, who presented me to 
his wife, a dear and patriotic woman who soon became 
very much attached to me. 

The following morning Rodzianko telephoned, sug- 
gesting that before the matter was broached to the War 
Minister, Kerensky, it would be wise to take it up with the 
Commander in Chief, General Brusilov, who could pass 
upon it from the point of view of the army. If he ap- 
proved of it, it would be easier to obtain Kerensky's per- 

General Headquarters were then at Moghilev and there 
we went. Captain Dementiev ajid I, to obtain an audience 
with the Commander in Chief. We were received by his 
Adjutant on the 14th of May. He announced our ar- 


rival and purpose to General Brusllov, who had us 
shown in. 

Hardly a week had elapsed since I left the front, and 
here I was again, this time not in the trenches, however, 
but in the presence of the Commander in Chief. It was 
such a sudden metamorphosis and I could not help won- 
dering, deep in my soul, over the strange ways of for- 
tune. Brusilov met us with a cordial hand-shaking. He 
was interested in the idea, he said. Wouldn't we sit 
down ? We did. Wouldn't I tell him about myself and 
how I conceived the scheme? 

I told him about my soldiering and my leaving the 
front because I could not reconcile myself to the pre- 
vailing conditions. I explained that the purpose of the 
plan would be to shame the men in the trenches by hav- 
ing the women go over the top first. The Commander 
in Chief then discussed the matter from various angles 
with Captain Dementiev and approved of my idea. He 
bade us adieu, expressing his hope for the success of my 
enterprise, and, in a happy frame of mind, I left for 

Kerensky had returned from the front. We called 
up Rodzianko and told him of the result of our mission. 
He informed us that he had already asked for an audience 
with Kerensky and that the latter wanted to see him at 
seven o'clock the following morning, when he would 
broach the subject to him. After his call on Kerensky 
Rodzianko telephoned to tell us that he had arranged for 
an audience for me with Kerensky at the Winter Palace 
at noon the next day. 

Captain Dementiev drove me to the Winter Palace 
and a few minutes before twelve I was in the ante-cham- 
ber of the War Minister. I was surprised to find Gen- 
eral Brusilov there and he asked me if I came to see 
Kerensky about the same matter. I replied in the af- 


firmative. He offered to support my idea with the War 
Minister, and introduced me right there to General Pol- 
ovtzev, Commander of the Petrograd Military District, 
who was with him. 

Suddenly the door swimg open and a young face, with 
eyes inflamed from sleeplessness, beckoned to me to come 
in. It was Kerensky, at the moment the idol of the 
masses. One of his arms was in a sling. With the 
other he shook my hand. He walked about nervously 
and talked briefly and dryly. He told me that he had 
heard about me and was interested in my idea. I then 
outlined to him the purpose of the project, saying that 
there would be no committees, but regular discipline in the 
battalion of women. 

Kerensky listened impatiently. He had evidently 
made up his mind on the subject. There was only one 
point of which he was not sure. Would I be able to 
maintain a high standard of morality in the organization? 
He would allow me to recruit it immediately if I made 
myself answerable for the conduct and reputation of the 
girls. I pledged myself to do so. And it was all done. 
I was granted the authority there and then to form a unit 
under the name of the First Russian Women's Battalion 
of Death. 

It seemed unbelievable. A few days ago it had dawned 
upon me as a mere fancy. Now the dream was adopted 
as a practical policy by the highest in authority. I was 
transported. As Kerensky showed me out his eyes fell 
on General Polovtzev. He asked him to extend to me 
all necessary help. I was overwhelmed with happiness. 

A brief consultation took place immediately between 
Captain Dementiev and General Polovtzev, who made 
the following suggestion: 

"Why not start at the meeting to be held tomorrow 
night in the Mariynski Theater for the benefit of the 


Home for Invalids? Kerensky, Rodzianko, Tchkheidze, 
and others will speak there. Let us put Botchkareva 
between Rodzianko and Kerensky on the program." 

I was seized with fright and objected strenuously that 
I could never appear publicly and that I would not know 
what to talk about. 

"You will tell the same things that you told Rodzianko, 
Brusilov and Kerensky. Just tell how you feel about 
the front and the country," they said, brushing away my 

Before I had time to realize it I was already in a pho- 
tographer's studio, and there had my picture taken. The 
following day this picture topped big posters pasted all 
over the city, announcing my appearance at the Mari- 
ynski Theater for the purpose of organizing a Women's 
Battalion of Death. 

I did not close an eye during the entire night preced- 
ing the evening set for the meeting. It all seemed a 
weird dream. Where did I come in between two such 
great men as Rodzianko and Kerensky? How could I 
ever face an assembly of educated people, I, an illit- 
erate peasant woman? And what could I say? My 
tongue had never been trained to smooth speech. My 
eyes had never beheld a place like the Mariynski Thea- 
ter, formerly frequented by the Tsar and the Imperial 
Family. I tossed in bed in a state of fever. 

"Holy Father," I prayed, my eyes streaming with 
tears, "show Thy humble servant the path to truth. I 
am afraid; instill courage into my heart. I can feel my 
knees give way; steady them with Thy strength. My 
mind is groping in the dark; illumine it with Thy light. 
My speech is but the common talk of an ignorant babai 
make it flow with Thy wisdom and penetrate the hearts 
of my hearers. Do all this, not for the sake of Thy 


humble Maria, but for the sake of Russia, my unhappy 

My eyes were red with inflammation when I arose in 
the morning. I continued nervous all day. Captain 
Dementiev suggested that I commit my speech to mem- 
ory. I rejected his suggestion with the comment: 

"I have placed my trust in God and rely on Him to 
put the right words into my mouth.** 

It was the evening of May the 2ist, 1917. 1 was driven 
to the Mariynski Theater and escorted by Captain Dem- 
entiev and his wife into the former Imperial box. The 
house was packed, the receipts of the ticket office amount- 
ing to twenty thousand rubles. Everybody seemed to 
point at me, and it was with great difficulty that I con- 
trolled my nerves. 

Kerensky appeared and was given a tremendous ova- 
tion. He spoke only about ten minutes. Next on the 
program was Mrs. Kerensky, and I was to follow her. 
Mrs. Kerensky, however, broke down as soon as she 
came out in the limelight. That did not add to my cour- 
age. I was led out as if in a trance. 

"Men and women-citizens I'* I heard my voice say. 
**Our mother is perishing. Our mother is Russia. I 
want to help save her. I want women whose hearts are 
crystal, whose souls are pure, whose impulses are lofty. 
With such women setting an example of self-sacrifice, you 
men will realize your duty in this grave hourl" 

Then I stopped and could not proceed. Sobs choked 
the words in me, tremors shook me, my legs grew weak. 
I was caught under the arm and led away under a thun- 
derous outburst of applause. 

Registration of volunteers for the Battalion from 
among those present took place the same evening, there 
and then. So great was the enthusiasm that fifteen hun- 
dred women applied for enlistment. It was necessary 


to put quarters at my immediate disposal and it was de- 
cided to let me have the building and grounds of the 
Kolomensk Women's Institute, and I directed the women 
to come there on the morrow, when they would be exam- 
ined and officially enlisted. 

The newspapers carried accounts of the meeting and 
other publicity helped to swell the number of women who 
volunteered to join the Battalion of Death to two thou- 
sand. They were gathered in the garden of the Institute, 
all in a state of jubilation. I arrived with Staff Captain 
Kuzmin, assistant to General Polovtzev, Captain Dem- 
entiev and General Anosov, who was introduced to me' 
as a man very interested in my idea. He looked about 
fifty and was of impressive appearance. He wanted to 
help me, he explained. In addition, there was about a 
score of newspaper men. I mounted a table in the center 
of the garden and addressed the women in the following 
manner : 

"Women, do you know what I have called you here 
for? Do you realize clearly the task lying ahead of you? 
Do you know what war is? War I Look into your 
hearts, examine into your souls and see if you can stand 
the great test. 

"At a time when our country is perishing it is the duty 
of all of us to rise to its succor. The morale of our men 
has fallen low, and it is up to us women to serve as an 
inspiration to them. But only those women who have 
entirely sacrificed their own personal interests and af- 
fairs could do it. 

"Woman is naturally light-hearted. But if she can 
purge herself for sacrifice, then through a caressing 
word, a loving heart and an example of heroism she can 
save the motherland. We are physically weak, but if we 
be strong morally and spiritually we will accomplish 
more than a large force. 


"I will have no committees in the Battalion. There 
will be strict discipline and guilt will be severely pun- 
ished. There will be punishment for even slight dis^ 
obediences. No flirtations will be allowed and any at- 
tempts at them will be punished by expulsion and send- 
ing home under arrest. It is the purpose of this Battal- 
ion to restore discipline in the army. It must, there- 
fore, be irreproachable in character. Now, are you will- 
ing to enlist under such conditions ?'' 

"Yes 1 We are 1 All right 1 All right V the women re- 
sponded in a chorus. 

**I will now ask those of you who accept my terms to 
sign a pledge, binding you to obey any order of Botch- 
kareva. I warn you that I am stem by nature, that I will 
personally punish any misdemeanor, that I will demand 
absolute obedience. Those of you who hesitate, better 
not sign the pledge. There will now be a medical exam- 


There were nearly two thousand signed pledges. They 
included names of some of the most illustrious families in 
the country, as well as those of common peasant girls 
and domestic servants. The physical examination, given 
by ten physicians, some of whom were women, was not 
of the same standard as that required of the men. There 
were, naturally, very few perfect specimens of health 
among the women. But we rejected only those suffering 
from serious ailments. Altogether there were a few 
score rejections. Those accepted were allowed to go 
home with instructions to return on the day following 
when they would be quartered permanently in the Insti- 
tute and begin training. 

It was necessary to obtain outfits, and I applied to Gen- 
eral Polovtzev, Commander of the Military District of 
Petrograd, for them. The same evening two thousand 
complete outfits were delivered at my headquarters. I 


also asked General Polovtzev for twenty-five men instruc- 
tors, who were well disciplined, could maintain good or- 
der and knew all the tricks of the military game, so as 
to be able to complete the course of instruction in two 
weeks. He sent me twenty-five petty officers of all grades 
from the Volynski Regiment. 

Then there was the question of supplies. Were we 
to have our own kitchen? It was found more expedient 
not to establish one of our own but to make use of the 
kitchen of a guard regiment, stationed not far from our 
quarters. The ration was that of regular troops, con- 
sisting of two pounds of bread, cabbage soup, kasha, 
sugar and tea. I would send a company at a time, 
equipped with pails, for their meals. 

On the morning of May 26th all the recruits gathered 
at the grounds of the Institute. I had them placed in 
rows, so as to distribute them according to their height, 
and divided the whole body into two battalions of approx- 
imately one thousand each. Each battalion was divided 
into four companies, and each company sub-divided into 
four platoons. There was a man instructor in command 
of every platoon, and, in addition, there was a petty of- 
ficer in command of every company, so that altogether 
I had to increase the number of men instructors to forty. 

I addressed the girls again, informing them that from 
the moment they entered upon their duties they were 
no longer women, but soldiers. I told them that they 
would not be allowed to leave the grounds and that only 
between six and eight in the evening they would be per- 
mitted to receive relatives and friends. From among 
the more intelligent recruits — and there were many uni- 
versity graduates in the ranks — I selected a number for 
promotion to platoon and company officers, their func- 
tion being limited at first to the internal management of 
the organization, since the men officers were purely in- 


structort, returning to their barracks at the end of the 
day's training. 

Next I marched the recruits to four barber shops, 
where from five in the morning to twelve at noon a num- 
ber of barbers, using clippers, closely cropped one girl's 
head after another. Crowds outside the shops watched 
this unprecedented procedure, greeting with derision every 
hairless girl that emerged, perhaps with an aching heart, 
from the barber's parlors. 

The same afternoon my soldiers received their first 
lessons in the large garden. A recruit was detailed to 
stand guard at the gate and not to admit anybody without 
the permission of the officer in charge. The watch was 
changed every two hours. A high fence surrounded the 
grounds, and the drilling went on without interference. 
Giggling was strictly forbidden, and I kept a sharp sur- 
veillance over the girls. I had about thirty of them un- 
ceremoniously dismissed the first day. Some were cast 
out for too much laughing, others for frivolities. Sev- 
eral of them threw themselves at my feet, begging mercy. 
However, I made up my mind that without severity I 
might just as well give it up at the beginning. If my 
word was to carry weight, it must be final and unalterable, 
I decided. How could one otherwise expect to manage 
two thousand women? As soon as one of them disobeyed 
an order I quickly removed her uniform and let her go. 
In this work it was quality and not quantity that counted, 
and I determined not to stop at the dismissal of even sev- 
eral hundred of the recruits. 

We received five hundred rifles for training purposes, 
sufficient only for a quarter of the force. This necessi- 
tated the elaboration of a method whereby the supply 
of rifles could be made use of by the entire body. It was 
thought wiser to have the members of the Battalion of 
Death distinguished by special insignia. We, therefore, 


devised new epaulets, white, with a red and black stripe. 
A red and black arrowhead was to be attached to the 
right arm. I had two thousand of such insignia or- 

When evening came and the hour for going to bed 
struck, the girls ignored the order to turn in for the night 
at ten o'clock and continued to fuss about and make merry. 
I called the officer in charge to account, threatening to 
place her at attention for six hours in the event of the 
soldiers keeping awake after ten. Fifty of the girls I 
had right there punished by ordering them at attention 
for two hours. To the rest I exclaimed : 

"Every one of you to bed this instant 1 I want you 
to be so quiet that I could hear a fly buzz. To-morrow 
you will be up at five o'clock." 

I spent a sleepless night. There were many things 
to think about and many worries to overcome. 

At five only the officer in charge was up. Not a soul 
stirred in the barracks. The officer reported to me that 
she had called a couple of times on the girls to arise, 
but none of them moved. I came out and in a thunder- 
ing voice ordered : 


Frightened and sleepy, my recruits left their beds. As 
soon as they got through dressing and washing there was 
a call to prayer. I made praying a daily duty. Break- 
fast followed, consisting of tea and bread. 

At eight I had issued an order that the companies 
should all, in fifteen minutes, be formed into ranks, ready 
for review. I came out, passed each company, greeting 
it. The company would answer in a chorus : 

^'Zdravia zhelaiem, gospodin Natchalnikr^ 

Training was resumed, and I continued the combing- 

• Get up. 

t Good health, sir chief t 

i68 yASHKA 

out process. As soon as I observed a girl coquetting 
with an instructor, carrying herself lightly, playing tricks 
and generally taking it easy, I quickly ordered her out of 
the uniform and back home. In this manner I weeded 
out about fifty on the second day. I could not empha- 
size too much the burden of responsibility I carried. I 
constantly appealed for the most serious attitude possible 
on the part of the soldiers toward our task. The Bat- 
talion had to be a success or I would become the laugh- 
ing-stock of the country, disgracing at the same time the 
sponsors of my idea, who grew in numbers daily. I took 
no new applicants, because haste in completing the course 
of training to rush the Battalion to the front was of the 
greatest importance. 

For several days the drilling went on, the girls ac- 
quiring the rudiments of soldiering. On several occa- 
sions I resorted to slapping as punishment for misbehav- 

One day the sentry reported to the officer in charge 
that two women, one a famous Englishwoman, came to 
see me. I ordered the Battalion at attention while I re- 
ceived the two callers, who were Emmeline Pankhurst 
and Princess Kikuatova, the latter of Avlium I kne w. 

Mrs. Pankhurst was introduced to me and I had the 
Battalion salute '*the eminent visitor who had done much 
for women and her country." Mrs. Pankhurst became 
a frequenter of the Battalion, watching it with absorb- 
ing interest as it grew into a well disciplined military 
unit. We became very much attached to each other. 
Mrs. Pankhurst invited me to a dinner at the Astoria, 
Petrograd's leading hotel, at which Kerensky was to be 
present and the various Allied representatives in the cap- 

Meanwhile, the Battalion was making rapid progress. 
At first we were little annoyed. The Bolshevik agitators 


did not think much of the Idea, expecting It to collapse 
quickly. I received only about thirty threatening letters 
in the beginning. It gradually, however, became known 
that I maintained the strictest discipline, conunanding 
without a committee, and the propagandists recognized a 
menace In me, and sought a means for the destruction of 
my scheme. 

On the evening appointed for the dinner I went to the 
Astoria. There Kerensky was very cordial to me. He 
told rtie that the Bolsheviki were preparing a demonstra- 
tion against the Provisional Government and that at first 
the Petrograd garrison had consented to organize a dem- 
onstration in favor of the Government. However, later 
the garrison wavered in its decision. The War Minister 
then asked me if I would march with the Battalion for the 
Provisional Government. 

I gladly accepted the invitation. Kerensky told me 
that the Women's Battalion had already exerted beneficial 
influence, that several bodies of troops had expressed a 
willingness to leave for the front, that many invalids 
of the war had organized for the purpose of going to 
the fighting line, declaring that if women could fight then 
they — the cripples — would do so, too. Finally he ex- 
pressed his belief that the announcement of the march- 
ing of the Battalion of Death would stimulate the garri- 
son to follow suit. 

It was a pleasant evening that I spent at the Astoria. 
Upon leaving, an acquaintance who went In the same di- 
rection offered to drive me to the Institute. I accepted 
the Invitation, getting off, however, within a block of 
headquarters, as I did not wish him to drive out of his 
way. It was about eleven o'clock when I approached our 
temporary barrack. There was a small crowd at the 
gate, about thirty-five men, of all descriptions, soldiers, 


hooligans, vagrants, and even some decent-looking fel- 

"Who are you? What arc you doing here?** I ques- 
tioned sharply. 

"Natchalnik,'* cried out the sentry, "they are waiting 
for you. They have been here more than an hour, break- 
ing the gate and scouring the grounds and building for 
you. When they became convinced that you were away 
they decided to wait here for your return." 

"Now, what do you want?'* I demanded of the group 
as they surrounded me. 

"What do we want, eh? Wc want you to disband 
.the Battalion. We have had enough of this discipline. 
Enough blood has been shed. We don't want any more 
armies and militarism. You are only creating new 
troubles for the common people. Disband your Battal- 
ion and we will leave you alone." 

"I will not disband 1" was my answer. 

Several of them pulled out revolvers and thieatened 
to kill me. The sentry raised an alarm and all the girls 
appeared at the windows, many of them with their rifles 

"Listen," a couple of them argued again, "you are 
of the people and we only want the weal of the common 
man. We want peace, not war. And you are inciting 
to war again. We have had enough war, too much war. 
We only now understand the futility of war. Surely you 
don't like to see the poor people slaughtered for the sake 
of the few rich. Come, join our side, and let's all work 
for peace." 

"Scoundrels 1" I shouted with all my strength. "You 
are idiots 1 I am myself for peace, but we will never 
have peace without driving the Germans out of Russia. 
They will make slaves of us and ruin our country and 
our freedom. You are traitors !" 


Suddenly I was kicked violently in the back. Some 
one dealt me a second blow from the side. 

"Firel" I shouted to my girls at the windows as I was 
knocked down, knowing that I had instructed them al- 
ways to shoot in the air first as a warning. 

Several hundred rifles rang out in a volley. My as- 
sailants quickly dispersed, and I was safe. However, 
they returned during the night and stoned the windows, 
breaking every pane of glass fronting the street. 



TT was after midnight when I entered the barracks. 
-'• The officer in charge reported to me on the happen- 
ings of the evening. It appeared that at first one of the 
group, a Bolshevik agitator, had made his way inside 
by telling the sentry that he had been sent by me for 
something. As soon as he was admitted he got the 
women together and began a speech, appealing to them 
to form a committee and govern themselves, in accord- 
ance with the new spirit. He ridiculed their toleration 
of the system of discipline I had inaugurated, calling it 
Tsaristic, and expressing his compassion for those poor 
girls that I had punished. Agitating against the war, in- 
citing to peace at any price, he urged my recruits to act 
as free citizens, depose their reactionary Natchalnik and 
democratically elect a new one. 

The result of the oration was a split in the ranks of my 
Battalion. More than half of them approved of the 
speaker, crying, **We are free. This is not the old re- 
gime. We want to be independent. We want to exercise 
our own rights." And they seceded from the body, find- 
ing themselves in the majority after a vote, and elected 
a committee. 

I was deeply aroused, and in spite of the late hour or- 
dered the girls to form into ranks. As soon as this was 
accomplished I addressed the following command to the 

"Those who want a committee move over to the right. 
Those who are against it go to the left." 



The larger part was on the right. Only about three 
hundred stood at the left. 

"Now, those of you who are willing to be treated 
by me as heretofore, to receive punishment when neces- 
sary, to maintain the severest possible discipline in the 
Battalion and to be ruled without a committee, say yes," 
I exclaimed. 

The group of three hundred on the left shouted in a 
chorus, "Yesl We consent I We are willing, Gospodin 

Turning to the silent crowd on the right, I said: 

"Why did you join? I told you beforehand that it 
would be hard. Didn't you sign pledges to obey? I 
want action, not phrases. Committees paralyze action 
in a flood of words." 

"We are not slaves; we are free women!" many of the 
mutineers shouted. "This is not the old regime. We 
want more courteous treatment, more liberty. We want 
to govern our own affairs as the rest of the army." 

"Ah, you foolish women!" I answered with a pained 
heart. "I did not organize this Battalion to be like the 
rest of the army. We were to serve as an example, and 
not merely to add a few babas to the ineffective millions 
of soldiers now swarming over Russia. We were to blaze 
a path and not follow the demoralized army. Had I 
known what stuff you were made of, I would not have 
come within a thousand miles of you. Consider, we 
were ta lead in a general attack. Now, suppose we had 
a committee and the hour for the offensive was here. 
Then the committee suddenly decides not to advance and 
our whole idea is destroyed." 

"That's it," the recalcitrants shouted. "We would 
want to decide for ourselves whether to attack or not." 

"Well," I turned on them, disgusted, "you are not worth 
the uniforms you are wearing. This uniform stands for 


noble sacrifice, for unselfish patriotism, for purity and 
honor and loyalty. Every one of you is a disgrace to 
the uniform. Take them ofi and get out!" 

My order was met by an outburst of derision and in- 

"We are in the majority. We refuse to obey your 
orders. We no longer recognize your authority. We 
will elect a new Natchalnik!" 

I was deeply hurt but controlled myself not to act 
rashly. I resolved to make another appeal to them and 

• "You will elect no new Natchalnik. But if you want 
to go, go quietly. Make no scandal, for the sake of 
womanhood. If all this becomes public it will mar and 
humiliate all of us. Men will say that women are unfit 
for serious work, that they don't know how to run things 
and that they simply must quarrel. We will become the 
talk of the world and your act will be an eternal blot on 
our sex," 

"But, why are you so cruel to us, so rigid?" the seces- 
sionists began to argue again. "Why do you keep us as 
if in a prison, allowing us no leave, giving us no oppor- 
tunity to go promenading, always shouting and ordering 
us about? You want to enslave us." 

"I told you at the beginning that I would be strict, that 
I would shout and punish. As to not letting you out of 
the grounds, you know that I do it because I can't be 
sure of your conduct outside. I wanted this house to be 
a holy place. I prayed to God to hallow us all with His 
chastity. I wished you to go to the front as saintly 
women, hoping that the enemy's bullets would not touch 

All night an argument raged between the few hundred 
loyal girls and the mutineers. I retired, leaving instruc- 
tions with the officers to let the recalcitrants do as they 


pleased, even to leave in the uniforms. My frame of 
mind was one of despair as I reflected on the outcome 
of my enterprise. My soul ached for all women as I 
thought of the disgraceful act of the girls who had 
pledged their honor to an idea and then deserted the 
banner they had themselves raised. 

In the morning I was informed that the secessionists 
had elected a delegation to go to General Polovtzev, 
Commander of the Military District, to make complaint 
against me, and that they all departed in the uniforms. 
The same day I was called to report to General Polovt- 
zev on the whole matter. The General advised me to 
meet some of the demands of the rebels and make peace. 

"The whole army is now being run by committees of 
soldiers. You can't remain alone with the old system. 
Let your girls form a committee so that a scandal will 
be averted and your big work thereby saved," General 
Polovtzev tried to persuade me. But I would not be ' 

He then went on to tell me that the soldiers of the 
First and Tenth Armies, having heard of my work, had 
bought for me two icons, one of the Holy Mother and 
the other of Saint George, both of silver, framed in gold. 
They telegraphed instructions to embroider two standards 
with appropriate inscriptions. Kerensky, the General 
told me, had thought of making the presentation a solemn 
occasion and had my record in the army fully investigated, 
after which he decided to buy a gold cross to present to 
me at the same time. 

"Now what will become of this celebration if you do 
not conciliate your girls?" the General asked. 

I was, naturally, flattered by the story of Polovtzev 
but I considered that duty was first and that I would not 
give in because of the honors promised to me, in spite 
of the assurances he gave me that the .women would ask 


my pardon in accordance with instructions from him if 
I consented to form a committee. 

*'I would not keep the rebels in the Battalion for any- 
thing. Once insulted by them, I will always consider 
them harmful in the organization. They would sap my 
strength here and would disgrace me at the front. The 
purpose of the Battalion was to set an example to the 
demoralized men. Give them a committee, and all is lost. 
I will have the same situation as in the army. The dis- 
integration there is a sufficient reason for my determina- 
tion not to introduce the new system," I argued. 

"Yes, I agree with you that the committees are a 
curse," confided the General. "But what is to be done?" 

"I know this much, that I, for one, will have nothing 
to do with committees," I declared emphatically. 

The General jumped to his feet, struck the table with 
his fist and thundered : 

"And I order you to form a committee I" 

I jumped up as well, also struck the table and reiterated 
loudly : 

*T won't I I started this work on condition that I be 
allowed to run the Battalion as I see fit and without any 


"Then there is nothing left but to disband your Battal- 
ion 1" proclaimed General Polovtzev. 

"Even this minute if you wishl" I offered. 

I drove to the Institute. Knowing that the girls were 
instructed to return I placed ten sentries with rifles in 
hand at the gates with instructions not to allow any one 
to enter, and to shoot in case of trouble. Many of the 
rebels came but in face of the muzzles they retired. 
Again they went to Polovtzev, who, for the moment, at 
least, could do nothing for them. He reported the matter 
to Kercnsky with a recommendation for some action 
that would curb me. 


I proceeded to reorganize my Battalion. There was 
only a remnant of three hundred left of it, but it was a 
loyal remnant and I was not upset by the diminution in 
numbers. Most of the remaining women were peasants 
like myself, illiterate but very devoted to Mother-Russia. 
All of them but one were under thirty-five. The excep- 
tion was one Orlova, who was forty but of an unusually 
powerful constitution. We resumed the drilling with 
greater zeal than ever. 

A day or two later Kerensky's adjutant called up. He 
wanted me to come to the Winter Palace to see the War 
Minister. The ante-chamber was again crowded with 
many people and I was greeted by several acquaintances. 
At the appointed minute I was shown into Kerensky's 

Kerensky was pacing the room vigorously as I entered. 
There was a cloud on his brow. 

"Good morning, Gospodin Minister," I greeted him. 

"Good morning," he answered coldly, without extend- 
ing his hand. 

"Are you a soldier?" he asked abruptly. 

"Yes," I replied. 

"Then why don't you obey your superiors?" 

"Because I am in the right in this case. The orders 
are against the interests of my country and in violation of 
my charter." , 

"You must obey 1" Kerensky raised his voice to a hign 
pitch, his face suffused with anger. "I demand that you 
form a committee to-morrow ! that you treat the girls 
courteously I that you cease punishing them I Otherwise 
I will reduce you to dust!" The War Minister banged 
his fist on the table for emphasis. 

But I felt that I was right, so this fit of temper did 
not frighten me but, on the contrary, fortified my deter- 


**No I" I shouted, letting down my fist, too, "no, I am 
not going to form any committees. I started out with 
the understanding that there would be the strictest dis- 
cipline in the Battalion. You can disband it now. A 
soldier I was and a soldier I shall remain. I will go home, 
retire to a village and settle there in peace." And I ran 
out, slamming the door angrily in the face of the aston- 
ished Minister. 

Agitated, I returned to the Institute and had the girls 
gathered before me. I addressed them as follows : 

**I am going home to-morrow. The Battalion will be 
disbanded, because I would not consent to form a com- 
mittee. You all know that I had warned all the appli- 
cants previously that I would be a severe disciplinarian. 
I sought to make this Battalion an example that would 
shine forever in the history of our country. I hoped 
to show that where men failed women could succeed. I 
dared dream that women would inspire men to great 
deeds and save our unhappy land. But my hopes are 
now shattered. Cowardly, weak girls proved to be the 
majority of those who responded to my appeal and they 
wrecked my scheme for the salvation of suffering Russia. 
I have just come back from Kerensky. He told me that 
I should form a committee, but I refused. Have you any 
idea what a committee would mean?" 

"No, no, Natchalnik," the women answered. 

"A committee," I explained, "means nothing but talk 
and talk. The committees have destroyed the army and 
the country. This is war and in war there should be no 
talk, but action. I can't submit to the order to introduce 
in this Battalion the very system that has disrupted our 
glorious army. So I am going home. . . . Yes, to- 
morrow I leave. ..." 

The girls threw themselves at my feet in tears. They 
wept and begged me to remain with them. "We love 


you. We will stand by you to the last," they cried. 
"You can punish us, beat us if you will. We know and 
appreciate your motives. You want to help Russia and 
we want you to make use of us. You can treat us as you 
please, you can kill us, but don't leave us. We will go 
anywhere for you. We will go to General Polovtzev and 
tear him to pieces 1" 

They embraced my feet, hugged me, kissed me, pro- 
fessed their affection and loyalty. I was profoundly 
stirred. My heart was filled with gratitude and love 
for these brave friends. They seemed like children to 
me, like my children, and I felt like a tender mother. If 
I had alienated fifteen hundred bad ones, I had won the 
deep devotion of these three hundred noble souls. They 
had tasted the rigors of soldiering but did not flinch. 
The others were cowards, masquerading their worthless- 
ness under the cover of "democracy." These sought no 
excuses. The prospect of actual sacrifice did not daunt 
them. The thought of three hundred Russian girls, cour- 
ageous of heart, pure of soul, ready for self-sacrifice, 
was one to comfort my aching heart. 

"I wish I could, but it is impossible for me to remain," 
I replied to the pleadings of my girls. "The orders from 
the superiors are to form a committee or disband the Bat- 
talion. Since I unqualifiedly refused to do the former 
there remains nothing for me but to go home. Good- 
by for the time being; I will go to the Duchess of Lich- 
tenberg for the afternoon." 

The Duchess was one of the circle of society women 
who had taken a deep interest in my work. She was a 
very simple and lovable soul, and I needed some one to 
whom I could pour out my heart. I was always sure that 
the Duchess would understand and be helpful. 

"What ails you, Maria?" were the words with which 

i8o ,YASHKA 

she greeted me as soon as I appeared on the threshold 
of her house. 

I could not restrain my sobs and told her haltingly of 
the mutiny and the consequent collapse of the Battalion. 
It weighed heavily on me and I seemed crushed by the 
disaster. She was struck by the news and cried with 
me. The beautiful dream we had nurtured was shat- 
tered. In truth, it was an evening of mourning. I re- 
mained there for dinner. 

About eight o'clock one of my girls sought admission 
and was shown in. She had been sent from the barracks 
as a messenger to report to me the results of a visit they 
had paid to General Polovtzev. It appeared that my 
three hundred loyalists armed themselves with the rifles 
and went to the Commander of the Military District, de- 
manding that he come out to see them. They were not 
in a light mood and meant business. The General came 

"What have you done to our Natchalnik?" they de- 
manded sternly. 

"I haven't done anything to her," Polovtzev answered, 
amazed at this threatening demonstration. 

"We want back our Natchalnikl" my girls shouted. 
"We want her back immediately. She is a holy woman; 
her heart is bleeding for unhappy Russia. We will have 
nothing to do with those bad, unruly girls, and we will 
not disband the Battalion. We are the Battalion. We 
want our Natchalnik. We want strict discipline in ac- 
cordance with our pledges to her, and we will not form 
any committees." ' 

It was reported to me that General Polovtzev was ac- 
tually frightened, surrounded by the throng of raging 
and menacing women. He sent them back to the Insti- 
tute, promising that he would not disband them and that 
he would come to the barracks at nine o'clock the follow- 


ing morning. I went with the messenger to the quarters 
and found everything in splendid order. The girls 
seemed anxious to comfort their Natchalnik and so main- 
tained calm and moved on tiptoe. 

In the morning everything went as usual, the rising 
hour, prayers, breakfast and drilling. At nine I was 
informed that General Polovtzev, the adjutant of Keren- 
sky, Captain Dementiev and several of the women who 
took an interest in the Battalion were at the gate. I 
quickly formed the Battalion. The General greeted us 
and we saluted. He then shook hands with me and gave 
orders to let the girls out into the garden, for he wanted 
to talk things over with me. 

I asked myself, as I led the group of distinguished vis- 
itors into the house, what it all meant. ''If it means that 
they came to persuade me to form a committee," I 
thought, "then it will make it mighty hard for me, but I 
shall refuse all pleas." 

My anticipation proved correct. The General had 
brought all these patronesses of mine to help him break 
my obstinacy. He immediately launched into an exposi- 
tion of the necessity to comply with general regulations 
and introduce^ the committee system in the army. He 
argued along the already familiar lines, but I would not 
tudge. He gradually became angry. 

"Are you a soldier?" he repeated the question put to 
me by Kerensky. 

"Yes, Gospodin General 1" 

"Then why don't you obey orders?" 

"Because they are against the interests of the country. 
The committees are a plague. They have destroyed our 
army," I answered. 

"But it is the law of the country," he declared. 

"Yes, and it is a ruinous law, designed to disrupt the 
front in time of war." 


"Now I ask you to do it as a matter of form," he 
argued in a different tone altogether, perhaps himself 
realizing the truth of my words. "All the army commit- 
tees are beginning to wonder about you. 'Who is thia 
Botchkareva?' they ask, *and why is she allowed to com- 
mand without a committee ?' Dp it only for the sake of 
form. Your girls are so devoted to you that a committee 
elected by them would never seriously bother you. At 
the same time it would save us trouble." 

Then the women surrounded me and begged me and 
coaxed me to give way. Some of them wept, others em- 
braced me, all got on my nerves. Nothing could enrage 
me so much as this wheedling. I grew exasperated and 
completely lost control of myself, gripped by hysteria. 

"You are rascals, all of you 1 You want to destroy the 
country 1 Get out of here!" I shrieked madly. 

"Shut upl How dare you shout like that? I am a 
General. I will kill you !" Polovtzev thundered at me, 
trembling with ire. 

"All right, you can kill mel kill me!" I cried out, tear- 
ing my coat open and pointing to my chest. "Kill me 1" 

The General then threw up his hands, muttering an- 
grily under his breath, "What the devil! This is a 
demon, n6t a woman ! You can do nothing with her," 
and he, with his mixed suite, withdrew. 

The following morning a telegram came from General 
Polovtzev, notifying me that I would be allowed to con- 
tinue my work without a committee 1 

Thus ended the row caused by the mutiny in the 
Battalion, and which nearly wrecked the entire under- 
taking. It was a hard fight that I had made but, con- 
vinced of my right, there was no retreating for me. 

Events have completely justified my feeling. The Rus- 
sian army, once the most colossal military machine in 
the world, was wrecked in a few months by the committee 


system. Coming from the trenches, where I learned at 
first hand what a curse the committees proved, I realized 
early their portentous significance. To me it has always 
been clear that a committee meant ceaseless speech-mak- 
ing. That was the outstanding factor about it and I 
considered no other aspect of it. I knew that the Ger- 
mans worked all day while our boys talked, and in war 
I always understood it was action that counted and con- 



THE same morning on which the telegram came from 
General Polovtzev there also arrived a banner, 
with an inscription that read something like this : 

"Long Live The Provisional Government 1 Let Those 
Who Can, Advance I Forward, Brave Women 1 To the 
Defense of the Bleeding Motherland 1'* 

Wc were to march with this banner in the demonstra- 
tion, organized in opposition to the Bolshevik demonstra- 
tion, set for that day. The Invalids were to march in 
the same paraae. I talked matters over with their chief 
when we met at Morskaya. 

The air was charged with alarming rumors. The Cap- 
tain of the Invalids placed fifty revolvers at my disposal. 
I distributed them among the instructors and my other 
officers, leaving a pair for myself. 

The band of the Volynski Regiment headed the Bat- 
talion of Death, as half the soldiers of that regiment had 
refused to march against the Bolsheviki, having already 
been contaminated with Bolshevist ideas, although it was 
only June. 

Mars Field, our destination, was about five versts from 
our barracks. The whole route was lined with enormous 
crowds which cheered us and the Invalids, of whom there 
were only about five hundred. Many women on the side- 
walks wept, mourning the girls that I was leading into 
what seemed a conflict with the Bolsheviki. Everybody 
said, '^Something is going to happen to-day." 



As we approached the Mars Field where the oppos- 
ing demonstration was held I ordered my soldiers to sit 
down and rest for fifteen minutes. 

^^Stroysia/"* I ordered at the end of that time. We 
were all more or less nervous, as if on the eve of an of- 
fensive. I addressed a few words to the Battalion, in- 
structing them to stick by me to the end, not to insult any- 
body, not to run at the slightest provocation, in order to 
avoid a panic. They all pledged themselves to fulfil my 

Before resuming the march the Captain of the Inva- 
lids, several of his subordinate officers and all my instruc- 
tors came forward and asked 'to march in the front row 
with me. I objected, but they insisted, and I finally had to 
give way, in spite of my desire to show the Bolsheviki 
that I was not afraid. 

The crowds on the Mars Field were indeed enormous. 
A stream of marchers, with Bolshevist banners, flowed 
into the great square. We stopped within fifty feet of a 
Bolshevist crowd and were met promptly by a hail of 
jokes and curses. The opponents derided the Provisional 
Government and shouted: "Long live the revolutionary 
democracy I Down with the war ! 

Some of the girls could not suppress their indignation 
and began to reply, provoking a hot argument. 

"When you cry, *Down with the war!' you are helping 
to destroy Free Russia," I exclaimed, stepping forward 
and addressing myself to the turbulent neighbors. "We 
must beat the Germans first and then there will be no 

"Kill her! Kill her!" several voices threatened. 

Greatly aroused, I rushed a few steps nearer to the 
crowd. My fingers gripped the two pistols but in all the 
excitement that followed, the idea was fixed in my mind 

*Form ranks* 


that I must not shoot at my own people, common workers 
and peasants. 

"Wake up, you deluded sons of Russia I Think what 
you are doing! You are destroying the Motherland! 
Scoundrels!" I concluded as their derision continued 

My instructors tried to hold me back as the throng 
swarmed around me, but I tore myself out of their arms 
and plunged into the thick of it. I worked myself up to 
such a state of frenzy that I did not cease talking even 
when a volley of shots was sent into our midst. Then my 
officers ordered the Battalion to fire. There followed an 
awful mixup. 

Two of my instructors were killed, one while defending 
me. Two others were wounded. Ten of my girls were 
also wounded. Many bullets grazed me, but I escaped 
till struck unconscious by a blow on the head with an iron 
bar from behind. Many onlookers became mixed up in 
the scrap and the result was a panic. 

I recovered consciousness in the evening. I was in my 
own bed with a physician beside it. He told me that al- 
though I had lost considerable blood, my wound was not 
serious and that I would be able to resume my duties soon. 

Late in the evening the officer in charge reported that 
Michael Rodzianko had come to see me. The physician 
went out to meet him and I heard the two conversing in 
the room next to mine. Rodzianko's first question was 
whether I had been killed. It appeared that rumors cir- 
culated about town that I was struck dead on the Mars 
Field. The doctor's statement of my condition appar- 
ently gladdened the heart of the President of the Duma. 

He then came in and smilingly approached my bed and 
kissed me. 

*'Heroitchik mine, I am very glad that you escaped seri- 
ous injury. There were many alarming reports about 
you. It was a brave act on your part to march straight 


into the midst of the Bolsheviki. Nevertheless, it was 
foolish of you and the Invalids to oppose such tremen- 
dous odds. I have heard of your victory in the fight 
against the introduction of the committee system in the 
Battalion. Good for youl I wanted to call and con- 
gratulate you earlier but was very occupied." 

I sat up in bed to show my visitor that I was quite well. 
He told me of the appointment of General Kornilov to 
the command of the southwestern front and of a luncheon 
on the morrow at the Winter Palace at which Kornilov 
would be present. Rodzianko inquired if I would be 
strong enough to attend it, and the physician thought that 
I probably would. Rodzianko then took leave, assuring 
me of his readiness to help me at all times and wishing 
me a speedy recovery. 

The following morning I spent at the window, with 
my head bandaged, watching my girls drill. I felt steady 
enough to go with Rodzianko to the luncheon. He called 
before noon and drove me to the Winter Palace. In the 
reception room there I was introduced by the President 
of the Duma to General Kornilov. 

A thin, virile, dynamic body; a wiry face of middle- 
age; gray mustache; Mongol eyes; semi-Mongol cheek- 
bones ; this was Kornilov. He spoke little, but each word 
he uttered had a ring in it. One felt instinctively that here 
was a man of power, of dogged perseverance. 

"Very glad to meet you," he said, shaking my hand. 
'^Congratulations on your determined fight against the 

"Gospodin General," I replied, "I was determined be- 
cause my heart told me that I was in the right." 

"Always follow the advice of your heart," he said, 
"and you will do right." 

At this moment Kerensky appeared. We arose to greet 
him. He shook hands with Kornilov, Rodzianko and me. 

i88 lYASHKA 

The War Minister was in good humor and smiled be- 
nignly at me. 

"Here is a little hard-head. I never saw one like 
her," Kerensky pointed at me. "She took it into her head 
not to form a committee, and nothing could break her 
will. One must do her justice. She is a sticker, hold- 
ing out all alone against us all. She foolishly stuck to 
the argument that 'there ain't such law.' " 

"Well," joked Rodzianko in my defense. "She isn't 
such a fool. She is perhaps wiser than you and I to- 

We were then asked into the dining room. Kerensky 
was seated at the head of the table, I at its opposite end. 
Rodzianko was on Kerensky's right, Komilov was on my 
right. There were also three Allied Generals present. 
One was on my left, and the other two were between 
Kerensky and Komilov. 

The conversation was carried on mostly in a foreign 
tongue and I understood nothing. Besides, I had my 
troubles with the dishes and table etiquette. I did not 
know how to handle the unfamiliar courses and blushed 
several times deeply, watching my neighbors from the 
corners of my eyes. 

Now and then I engaged in bits of conversation with 
Kornilov. He liked my decided opinions about the neces- 
sity of discipline in the army, and expressed himself to 
the effect that if discipline were riot restored, then Russia 
was lost. The burden of Kerensky's conversation at the 
table was, that in spite of the considerable disintegration 
that was eating away the army. It was not too late as yet. 
He planned a trip to the front, feeling certain that it 
would result in an offensive blow by our troops. 

Finally, Kerensky got up, and the luncheon was over. 
He told me before leaving that there would be a solemn 
presentation to me of the two standards and icons sent 


by the soldiers from the front to the Battalion. I replied 
that I did not deserve such honors, but hoped to be able 
to justify his trust in me. 

Kornilov parted from me cordially, also inviting me 
to call on him at his headquarters when I arrived at the 
front. Rodzianko then took me home and asked me to 
come to see him before leaving for the front. 

The time left until the date set by Kerensky for the 
dedication of the Battalion's battle flags was spent in in- 
tensive training and rifle practise. The women were get- 
ting ready to go to the front and awaited June 21st with 

Finally, that day arrived. The girls were in high spir- 
its. My heart beat with anticipation. The Battalion 
arose early. Every soldier had a new uniform. The rifles 
were spick and span. The atmosphere was one of a holi- 
day. We were all cheerful though nervous under the 
weight of the responsibility of the day. 

At nine in the morning two bands arrived at our gates. 
They were followed by Captain Kuzmin, assistant Com- 
mander of the Petrograd Military District, with instruc- 
tions for the Battalion to be at the St. Isaac Cathedral 
at ten o'clock in full military array. We started out al- 
most immediately, led by the two army bands. 

The movement of people in the direction of the Cathe- 
dral was enormous. The entire neighborhood was lined 
up with units of the garrison. There were troops of all 
kinds. Even a body of Cossacks, with flags on the tops 
of their spears, was there. A group of distinguished citi- 
zens and officers was on the stairs leading to the entrance 
of the church. There were Kerensky, Rodzianko, Miliu- 
kov, Kornilov, Polovtzev and others. The Battalion sa- 
luted as we marched inside of the huge edifice. 

The officiating persons were two archbishops and twelve 
priests. The church was filled to overflow. A hush fell 


on the vast gathering as I was asked to step forward and 
give my name. I was seized with fear, as if in the pres- 
ence of God Himself. The standard that was to be con- 
secrated was placed in my hand and two old battle flags 
were crossed over it, hiding me almost completely in their 
folds. The ofliciating archbishop then addressed me, tell- 
ing of the unprecedented honor of dedicating an army 
standard to a woman. 

It was not customary to inscribe the name of a com- 
mander on the flag of a military unit, he explained, but 
the name of Maria Botchkareva was emblazoned on this 
standard, which, in case of my death, would be returned 
to the Cathedral and never used by another commander. 
As he spoke and said the prayers, in the course of which 
he sprinkled me three times with holy water, I prayed to 
the Lx)rd with all my heart and might. The ceremony 
lasted about an hour, after which two soldiers, delegates 
from the First and Third armies, presented to me two 
icons, given by fellow soldiers, with inscriptions on the 
cases, expressing their confidence in me as in the woman 
who would lead Russia to honor and renown. 

I was humbled. I did not consider myself worthy of 
such honors. When asked to receive each of the two icons 
I fell on my knees before them and prayed for God's 
guidance. How could I, a dark woman, justify the hopes 
and trust of so many enlightened and brave sons of my 
country ? 

General Kornilov, representing the army, then placed 
on me a revolver and saber with handles of gold. 

"You have deserved these gallant arms, and you will 
not disgrace them," he said, and kissed me on the cheek. 

I kissed the saber and pledged myself never to disgrace 
the weapons and to use them in the defense of my country. 

Kerensky then pinned the epaulets of a Lieutenant on 
my shoulders, promoting me to the rank of an officer. He, 


also, kissed me and was followed by some of the distin- 
guished guests, who congratulated me warmly. 

The high officials departed and General Polovtzev took 
charge for the rest of the day. I was too overcome to re- 
gain my self-possession quickly. I was lifted in the hands 
of General Polovtzev and General Anosov first. Then 
some officers of junior ranks carried me. Next I was 
raised above the crowd by some enthusiastic soldiers and 
picked out of their hands by even more jubilant sailors. 
All the time I was very uncomfortable, but the ovation 
continued and the cheers would not subside. Women in 
the throng forced their way to me, kissing my feet and 
blessing me. It was a patriotic mass of people, and love 
for Russia was the dominant note of the celebrating 
crowd. Orators mounted improvised tribunes and talked 
of the coming offensive and the Battalion of Death, fin- 
ishing with a "Long Live Botchkareva 1" The spiritual 
state of the soldiers at the moment was such that they 
cried, "We will go with Botchkareva to the front." 
Speakers pointed to the women as heroes, calling upon 
every able-bodied man to rise to the defense of Russia. 

It was a wonderful day ; a dream, not a day. Had my 
fancy come true? Had this group of women already ac- 
complished the object for which it was organized? It 
seemed so that day. I felt that Russia's manhood was 
ready to follow the Battalion and strike the final blow 
for the salvation of the country. 

It was an illusion and my disenchantment was not very 
long delayed. But it was such a beautiful illusion that 
one gained enough strength from it to labor patiently for 
its revival and realization. What those thousands of 
Russian soldiers, assembled in the vicinity of the St. 
Isaac Cathedral, felt on June 21st, 1917, was the thrill 
that comes from self-sacrifice for the truth, from unself- 
ish devotion to the motherland, from lofty idealism. It 



convinced me that the millions of Russian soldiers, scat- 
tered over their vast country, were amenable to the word 
of truth, and instilled into me the faith in the ultimate 
righting of itself of my country. 

After the consecration of the Battalion's standard, 
there remained less than three days before leaving for the 
front. These were spent in preparations. We had to 
organize a supply unit of our own, as we could not take 
along the kitchen of the guard regiment that we had 
used. Also, every member of the Battalion received full 
war equipment. 

On June 24th we left the grounds of the Institute and 
marched to the Kazan Cathedral, on the way to the rail- 
road station. The archbishop addressed us, pointing 
to the significance of the moment and blessing us. Again 
large crowds followed us into the Cathedral and to the 
station. When we started out from the church a group 
of Bolshevik! blocked our way. The girls immediately 
began to load their rifles. I ordered them to stop this, 
put my saber in the scabbard and marched forward to the 

"Why do you block the way? You make fun of us 
women, claiming that we can't do anything. Then, why 
did you come here to interfere with our going? It is a 
sign that you are afraid of us," I said to the obstruc- 
tionists. They dispersed, jeering. 

Accompanied by the lusty cheers of the people who 
lined the streets, we marched to the station. Our train 
consisted of several teplushkas and one second-class pas- 
senger coach. We boarded the train under orders to 
proceed to Molodechno, the Headquarters of the Tenth 
Army, to which the Battalion was assigned. 

The journey was a triumphal procession. At every 
station we were hailed by crowds of soldiers and civilians. 
There were ovations, demonstrations and speeches. My 


girls had straight orders not to leave the cars without 
permission. Our meals were provided for us at certain 
stations, through telegraphic orders, and we would get 
off the train in those places to eat. At one stop, while I 
was at rest, a demonstration took place in our honor, and 
I was suddenly taken out of bed and carried out in view 
of the crowd. 

Thus we moved to the front, finally arriving at Molo- 
dechno. I was met there by a group of about twenty offi- 
cers and taken to dine with the Staff. The Battalion was 
quartered in tv^o barracks upon our arrival at Army 

There were about a score of barracks in Molodechno. 
Almost half of these were filled with deserters from the 
front, former police and gendarmes who had been im- 
pressed into the army at the outbreak of the Revolution 
and soon escaped from the ranks. There were also some 
criminals and a number of Bolshevist agitators. In a 
word, the lot consisted of the down-and-outs of that sec- 
tor of the front. 

They scented the arrival of the Battalion quickly, and 
while I was being driven to dinner they descended upon 
my girls in flocks and began to deride and molest them. 
The officer in charge perceived with alarm the growing 
insolence of the rogues and hurried to the Commandant 
of the Station to beg protection. 

"But what can I do?" answered the Commandant, help- 
lessly. "I am powerless. There are fifteen hundred of 
them, and there is nothing to be done but to bear patiently 
with their derision and win their favor by kindness." 

The death penalty had already been abolished in the 

The officer in charge returned with empty hands. She 
found a few of the outlaws in the barracks, behaving of- 
fensively towards the women. Having tried vainly to get 


rid of them by persuasion, she telephoned to me. I had 
barely seated myself at the dinner table as her call reached 
me. I hastened into an automobile and to the barracks. 

"What are you doing here?" I yelled, sharply, as soon 
as I jumped off the car and ran inside. "What do you 
want? Get out! I will talk to you outside if you want 

"Ha, ha, ha !" the men jeered. "Who are you? What 
sort of a baba is this?" 

"I am the Natchalnikr 

"The Natchalnik, eh? Ha, ha, hal Look at this 
Natchalnikr' they scoffed. 

"Now," I spoke slowly and firmly, "you have no busi- 
ness here whatever. You have got to get out. I will be 
at your services outside. If you want anything you will 
tell it to me there. But you must get out of here 1" 

The men, there was only a score of them, took them- 
selves to the door, still jeering and muttering curses. I 
followed them. Immediately outside a large crowd had 
collected, attracted by the noise. As I faced these de- 
praved men in soldiers' uniforms my heart was pained by 
the sight of them. A more ragged, tattered, demoralized 
lot of soldiers I had never seen. Most of them had the 
faces of out-and-out murderers. Others were mere boys, 
corrupted by the Bolshevist propaganda. 

In other times, in the old days of January, 19 17, it 
would have been sufficient to execute a couple of them to 
transform the fifteen hundred into respectable and obedi- 
ent human beings. Now, the mighty Russian military or- 
ganization, while engaged in a mortal combat with a stu- 
pendous enemy, was rendered unable to cope with such a 
small group of recalcitrants I This was my first contact 
with the front in two months. But what a great stride 
had been made by the disintegrating influences in this 
short period of time. It was four months after the Revo- 


lution, and the front was already seriously affected by the 
blight of disobedience. 

"Why did you come here? What devil brought you 
here? You want to fight? We want peace! We have 
had enough fighting!" showered on me from every side. 

"Yes, I want to fight. How, otherwise, could we have 
peace if not by fighting the Germans? I have had more 
war than you, and I want peace as much as any one here. 
If you want me to talk more to you and answer any ques- 
tions you might put to me, come to-morrow. It is getting 
late now. I shall be at your disposal to-morrow." 

The gang drifted away in groups, some still scoffing, 
others arguing. I transferred the girls from the second 
barrack into the first for greater safety and posted senti- 
nels at every entrance. This buoyed up the girls some- 
what, but they were even more encouraged when they 
heard me refuse an invitation to spend the night at Staff 
Headquarters. How could I leave my girls alone with 
these fifteen hundred ruffians in the neighborhood? So 
I resolved to sleep with them, under the same roof. 

Night came and my soldiers went to bed. Many of us 
must have wondered that evening whether the deserters 
would heed my words or return during the night and at- 
tack the barracks. It was not midnight yet when a party 
of them came knocking at the windows and the thin 
wooden walls. They cursed us all and particularly me. 
They tried to enter through one or the other doors but 
were met by fixed bayonets. Getting no further through 
their raillery, they stoned the barrack, breaking some 
window panes. 

Still we remained docile. If the conmiandant con- 
fessed his powerlessness to control them, what could we 
do? Besides, we were going to the front to fight the 
Germans, not to engage in a battle with three times our 
number of desperadoes. 


The more patience we exercised the greater grew the 
encroachments of the men. Some of them would thrust 
suddenly their hands through the shattered window-panes, 
grab some of the girls by their hair, causing them pain 
and resulting in sharp outcries. Nobody slept. All were 
excited and on edge. The crashing of the stones against 
the board walls would shake the structure every now and 
then. It required a lot of patience to endure it all, but 
my orders were not to bring about a fight. 

However, as the night wore on and the noises and cat- 
calls did not cease, my blood began to boil in me, and I 
finally lost control of myself. Hastily putting on my over- 
coat, I ran out of the barrack. The day was just break- 
ing, an early July day. The band of thugs, about fifty in 
all, halted for an instant. 

"Villains, rogues, you I What are you doing?" I 
shouted-with all my strength. "Didn't you seek a rest on 
the way to the trenches? Can't you let us alone, or do 
you know not what shame is ? Perhaps some of the girls 
here are your sisters. And some of you are old men, 
one can see. If you want anything, come to see me. I 
am always ready to talk and argue and answer questions. 
But leave the girls alone, you shameless rascals 1" 

My tirade was met by an outburst of laughter and 
drollery that incensed me even more. 

"You will get away this instant or kill me herel" I 
shrieked, bouncing forward. "You hear? Kill me!" 
I was trembling with rage. The outcasts were struck by 
my tone and words. They left one by one, and we set- 
tled down for a couple of hours of sleep. 

One morning General Valuyev, now Commander of 
the Tenth Army, reviewed the Battalion. He was greatly 
pleased and expressed his gratification to me over the per- 
fect discipline and bearing of the unit. Our own two 
kitchens then prepared dinner, after they had received a 


supply of food and provender. There were twelve horses 
attached to the Battalion, six drivers, eight cooks, two 
shoemakers. In addition to these sixteen men, there were 
two military instructors accompanying us. The men were 
always segregated from the girls. 

After dinner the deserters began to assemble around 
our barracks. I had promised to debate with them on 
the preceding day, and they now took me at my word. 

"Where are you taking your soldiers? To fight for 
the bourgeoisie? What for? You claim to be a peasant 
woman, then why do you want to shed the people's blood 
for the rich exploiters ?*' 

These and many similar questions were fired at me 
from many directions. 

I stood up, folded my arms and eyed the crowd sternly. 
I must confess a tremor ran over me as my eyes passed 
from one hooligan to another. They were a desperate 
lot, appearing more like beasts than humans. The dregs 
of the army, truly. 

"Look at yourselves," I opened up, "and think what 
has become of you I You, who have advanced before like 
heroes against a withering enemy fire and suffered like 
faithful sons of the motherland in the defense of Russia, 
lying for weeks in the muddy, vermin-ridden trenches, and 
crawling through No Man's Land. Consider for a mo- 
ment what you are now and what you were a while ago. 
You were the pride of the country and the world only 
last winter. Now you are the execration of the army and 
the nation. Surely there are some among you who be- 
longed to the Fifth Siberian Corps, aren't there?" 

"Yes, yes." 

"Then you ought to remember me — ^Yashka— or have 
heard of me." 

"Yes, we do! We know youl" came from several 

198 yASHKA 

"Well, if you know me, you ought also to know that I 
wallowed in the mud of the trenches together with you ; 
that I slept on the same wet ground as you or your 
brother ; that I faced the same dangers, suffered the same 
hunger, shared the same cabbage soup that you had. 
Why then do you attack me? Why do you jeer at me? 
How and when have I earned your contempt and deri- 

"When you were a conunon soldier," answered a cou- 
ple of voices, "you were like one of us. But now, being 
an officer, you are under the influence of the bourgeoisie." 

"Who made me an officer if not you? Didn't your 
brethren, the common soldiers of the First and Tenth 
Armies, send special delegates to honor me and present 
icons and standards to me, thus raising me to the grade 
of officer? I am of the people, blood of your blood, a 
toiling peasant girl." 

"But we are tired of war. We want peace," they 
complained, unable to find fault with me personally. 

"I want peace, too. But how will you have peace? 
Show me how!" I pounded vigorously, observing that 
my talk was softening the crowd's temper considerably. 

"Why, simply leave the front and go home. That's 
how we can have peace." 

"Leave the front!" I bawled, with all the power I could 
command. "What will happen then? Tell mel Will 
you have peace? Never! The Germans will just walk 
over our impregnable defenses and crush the people and 
the freedom. This is war. You are soldiers and you 
know what war is. You know that all is fair in war. 
To leave the trenches! Why not hand Russia over to 
the Kaiser! It's the same thing, and you know it as 
well as I. No, there is no other way to peace than through 
an offensive and the defeat of the enemy. Conquer the 
Germans and there will be peace 1 Shoot them, kill them. 


saber them, but do not fraternize with the foes of our 
beloved Russia !" 

"But they fraternize with us. They are tired of the 
war, too. They want peace as much as we," said a few 

"They deceive. They fraternize here and send sol- 
diers to fight our Allies." 

"What Allies are they to us if they want no peace?" 
some argued. 

"They want no peace now because they know that the 
Germans are treacherous. You and I know it too. 
Haven't the Germans asphyxiated thousands of our 
brethren with their deadly gases? Haven't we all suf- 
fered from their dirty tricks? Aren't they now occupy- 
ing a large part of our country? Let's drive them out and 
have peace!" 

There was silence. Nobody had anything to say. 
Greatly encouraged, I resumed, just as a happy idea 
dawned upon me. 

"Yes, let us drive them out of Russia. Suppose I were 
to take you along to the front, to feed you well, to equip 
you with new uniforms and boots, would you go with me 
to attack the treacherous enemy?" 

"Yes, yes I We will go ! You are our comrade. You 
are not a bourgeois blood-sucker 1 With you, we will 
go!" many voices rang from all sides. 

"But if you go with me," I said, "I would keep you 
under the severest discipline. There can be no army with- 
out discipline. I am a peasant like you, and I would take 
your word of honor to stick it out. But should any one 
of you attempt to escape, I would have him shot 

"We agree I We are willing to follow you I You are 
one of us! Hurrah for Yashka! Hurrah for Botch- 
kareval" the crowd roared almost unanimously. 


It was a souI-stirring spectacle. But an hour ago these 
tattered men acted as if their hearts were congealed. 
Now they were beating warmly. A brief while ago 
they looked like the most depraved thugs ; now their faces 
were lit with the spark of humanity. It seemed a miracle. 
But it was not. Such is the soul of the Russian; now it 
is hardened and brutal, now it is full of devotion and love. 

I called up General Valuyev and begged permission to 
take the body of deserters to the front, asking for equip- 
ment for them. The General refused. He was afraid 
that they would disintegrate the rest of the men. I as- 
sumed responsibility for their conduct, but the General 
could not see it the way I did. 

So I had to return with empty hands, but I did not dis- 
close the truth to the men. I told them that there was 
no equipment on hand and that as soon as it arrived they 
would be despatched to the Battalion's sector. Mean- 
while, I invited them to escort us out of Molodechno as 

We started out, in full array, early the following week. 
Each of the girls carried her full equipment, a burden of 
about sixty-five pounds. There were thirty versts ahead 
of us to Corps Headquarters. The road was open, fields 
alternating with woods stretching on both sides of it. 

I had telegraphed to Headquarters for supper, ex- 
pecting to arrive there early in the evening. But clouds 
gathered overhead and showers impeded our progress 
to such an extent that the girls could scarcely keep up. 
Whenever we passed a village the temptation was great 
to let them take a rest in it, but I knew that I would never 
be able to collect them again that day if I once allowed 
them to spread out. So I was compelled to hold the Bat- 
talion in the open and move ahead regardless of the con- 
dition of the road or the weather. 

It was eleven at night when we arrived at Corps Head- 


quarters and were met by General Kostiayev, Chief of 
Staff, who asked us to go to eat the meal prepared for us. 
The Commanding General would review us to-morrow 
he said. The girls were too tired to sup. They fell like 
dead in the barn assigned to the Battalion and slept all 
night in their clothes. 

The Corps Headquarters were situated at Redki. We 
breakfasted in the barracks, after. which we proceeded to 
prepare for review by the Commanding General. I had 
been invited to lunch with the Staff after review. 

It was then found that several of my girls were suf- 
fering from the effects of the arduous march on the pre- 
ceding day. Two of them, Skridlova, my adjutant, the 
daughter of an Admiral who had commanded the Black 
Sea Fleet, and Dubrovskaya, the daughter of a General, 
were too ill to renuiin in the ranks and were sent to a 
hospital. I appointed Princess Tatuyeva, of a famous 
Grusin family in Tiflis, the Caucasus, to be my adjutant. 
She was a brave and loyal girl, of high education and 
spoke fluently three foreign languages. 

At twelve I formed the Battalion for review. Know- 
ing how much the girls had gone through the twenty-four 
hours before, I abandoned for a moment my severe atti- 
tude and joked and coaxed my soldiers into an effort to 
make a striking impression on the General. The girls 
tried their best to appear in good shape and were ready 
to show the General what the Battalion was worth. The 
Corps Conmiander arrived soon. He reviewed my sol- 
diers, gave them a thorough examination, resorting even 
to some catch tests. 

"Magnificent 1" he said enthusiastically at conclusion 
of the quiz, congratulating me and shaking my hand. "I 
would not have believed it possible for men, let alone 
women, to master the game in six weeks so well. Why, 
we get recruits here who had undergone three months' 


drilling, and they could not compare with your girls." 

He then spoke a few words of praise to the rank and 
file, and my soldiers were immensely pleased. I proceeded 
with the General and his suite to Headquarters, where 
luncheon was awaiting us. He nearly kissed me when 
he learned that there were no committees in my Battalion, 
so genuine was his joy over it. 

**Since the committees were instituted in the army, 
everything has changed,** he said. "I love the soldiers 
and they always loved me. But now it is all gone. There 
is no end to trouble. Every day, almost every hour, there 
come some impossible demands from the ranks. The 
front has lost almost all of its former might. It is a 
comedy, not war." 

We had not had time to begin the luncheon when a 
telegram arrived from Molodechno, notifying the Staff 
of Kerensky's arrival there for luncheon and requesting 
the General's and my attendance. Losing no time, the 
General ordered his car and we drove to Molodechno at 
top speed. 

There were about twenty persons present at the lunch- 
eon at Army Headquarters. Kerensky sat at the head 
of the table. The Commander of my Corps was on my 
right and another General on the left. During the meal 
the conversation was about the condition at the front 
and the state of preparedness for a general offensive. 
I took practically no part in the discussion. At the end 
of the meal, when all arose, Kerensky walked up to the 
Commander of my Corps and delivered himself unex- 
pectedly of the following peremptory speech : 

"You will see to it that a committee be formed imme- 
diately in the Death Battalion and that she," pointing at 
me, "cease punishing the girls I" 

I was thunderstruck. All the officers in the room 
pricked up their ears. There was a tense instant. I felt 


my blood rush to my head, setting me ablaze. I was 

With two violent jerks I tore off my epaulets and threw 
them into the face of the War Minister. 

"I don't want to serve under you I*' I exclaimed. "To- 
day you are this way, to-morrow, the opposite. You al- 
lowed me once to run the Battalion without a committee. 
I shall not form any committees 1 I am going home." 

I flung these words at the reddened Kerensky before 
any one in the room had recovered from the shock, ran 
out of the house, threw myself into the Corps Command- 
er's automobile and ordered his chauffeur to drive to 
Redki instantly. 

There was a great commotion as soon as I left the 
room, a friend of the Chief of Staff, Kostiayev, told 
later. Kerensky raged at first. 

"Shoot her!" he ordered in the flush of anger. 

"Gospodin Minister," General Valuyev, the Command- 
er of the Tenth Army, said in my defense, "I have known 
Botchkareva for three years. She first tasted war as a 
member of my corps. She suffered more than any other 
soldier at the front, because she suffered both as a woman 
and as a soldier. She was always in the lead of any 
enterprise, serving as an example. She is a plain soldier 
and a word is a pledge to her. If she had been promised 
the command of the Battalion without the aid of a com- 
mittee, then she could never understand a reversal of the 

The Commander of my Corps and other officers also 
spoke up for me. Finally, some remembered that Keren- 
sky had abolished capital punishment. 

"Capital punishment has been abolished, Gospodin 
Minister," they said. "If Botchkareva is to be shot, then 
why not let us shoot some of those fifteen hundred de- 
serters who are raising the devil here?" 


Kerensky then abandoned the thought of shooting me, 
but insisted before departing from Molodechno that I 
be tried and punished. The trial never came off. 

The Corps Commander was wrought up when he dis- 
covered that I had disappeared with his car. He had to 
borrow one to get to Redki, and although glad at heart 
at my outburst, he decided to give me a scolding and re- 
mind me of discipline. I was too excited and nervous to 
do anything when I returned from Molodechno, and so 
laid down in my barrack, trying to figure out what would 
now become of the Battalion. I knew I had committed 
a serious breach of discipline and reproached myself 
for it. 

I was called before the Commander late in the after- 
noon, and he reprimanded me for my unmilitary conduct. 
The General's rebuff was severe. I acknowledged every 
point of it without argument, recognizing that my be- 
havior was unpardonable. 

The hour for dinner came, and I went to Headquar- 
ters. The scene at the table was one of suppressed merri- 
ment. Everybody knew of what had happened at Molo- 
dechno. The officers winked knowingly and interchanged 
smiles. I was the hero of the clandestine celebration. 
Nobody dared to laugh out loud, for the General at the 
head of the table had assumed a grave expression, as if 
struggling not to sanction inadvertently by a smile the 
illegitimate levity of the Staff over my treatment of 
Kerensky. At the end the General could not maintain his 
poise and joined in the laughter. The ban was lifted. 

"Bravo, Botchkareva 1" one of the men exclaimed. 

"That's the way to treat him," said another. 

"As if there weren't enough committees in the army, 
he wants still morel" spoke a third. 

"He had himself abolished capital punishment, and now 
wants her shotl" laughed a fourth. 


The officers were plainly hostile toward Kerensky. 
Why? Because they saw that Kerensky did not under- 
stand the temper of the Russian soldier. His flying trips 
to the front perhaps made Kerensky and the world think 
that the army was a living, powerful, intelligent organism. 
The officers who were with the soldiers day and night 
knew that the identical crowd which gave an enthusiastic 
welcome to Kerensky would accord a similar reception 
to a Bolshevist or Anarchist agitator an hour later. 
Above all, it was Kerensky's development of the com- 
mittee system In the army that undermined his standing 
with officers. 

After dinner I applied to the General for seven officers 
and twelve men instructors to accompany the Battalion to 
the trenches. One of the officers, a young Lieutenant 
named Leonid Grigorievitch Filippov, was recommended 
to me for the post of adjutant in battle. Filippov was 
known as a brave fellow, as he had escaped from a Ger- 
man prison camp. I addressed to the group of instructors 
a warning to the effect that if any of them would be un- 
able to consider my soldiers as men it would be better for 
them not to join the Battalion, and thus avoid unpleas- 
antness in the future. 

The Battalion was assigned to the 172nd Division, lo- 
cated within six versts of Redki, in the village of Beloye. 
We were met by the units in reserve, formed in ranks to 
greet us, with great enthusiasm. 

It was a sunny day in midsummer. We spent little time 
at Division Headquarters. After lunching we resumed 
our march, having been further assigned to the 525th 
Kuriag-Daryinski Regiment, about a verst and a half 
from Beloye and two versts from the fighting line. We 
arrived at Senki, Regimental Headquarters, after sunset 
and were met by a "shock battalion,** formed of volun- 
teer soldiers for offensive warfare. There were many 


such battalions scattered throughout the army, comprising 
in their ranks the best elements of the Russian soldiery. 

Two barns were placed at the disposal of the Battalion 
and one dugout for the officers. Another dugout was oc- 
cupied by the instructors and members of the supply de- 
tachment. However, as the men in the place began to 
manifest a certain amount of curiosity in my girls, I de- 
cided to sleep in one barn and let Tatuyeva take charge 
of the second. At night many soldiers surrounded the 
barns and would not let us sleep. They were inoffensive. 
They made no threats. But they were simply curious, 
intensely curious. 

"We merely want to see. It is something new," they 
replied to the remonstrating sentinels; ''babas in 
breeches 1" they made merry, "and soldiers, to bootl 
Isn't it outlandish enough to attract attention?" 

In the end I had to go out and talk with the soldiers. 
I sat down and argued it out. Didn't they think it right 
for the girls to want a rest after a day of marching? Yes, 
they did. Wouldn't they admit that recuperation was 
necessary before taking the offensive? Yes, they would. 
Then why not suppress their curiosity and give the fa- 
tigued women a chance to collect new strength? The 
men agreed and dispersed. 

The girls were in high spirits the following day. The 
Russian artillery had opened up early and poured a 
stream of fire into the enemy positions. Of course, that 
meant an offensive. The Commander of the Regiment 
came out to review us and made a warm speech to the 
Battalion, calling me their mother and expressing his 
hope that the girls would love me as such. The cannon- 
ade grew in violence as the 6th of July, 19 17, was de- 
clining. The German artillery did not remain silent long. 
Shells began to fall here and there. 

The night was passed in the same bams at Senki. How 


many of the girls slept, I do not know. Certainly most 
of them must have been awed in the presence of War it- 
self. The guns were booming incessantly, but my brave 
little soldiers, whatever their hearts felt, behaved with 
fortitude. Weren't they going to lead in a general attack 
against the foe that would set the entire Russian front 
ablaze ? Weren't they sacrificing their lives for beloved 
Russia, who would surely remember with pride this gal- 
lant group of three hundred girls ? Death was dreadful. 
But a hundred times more dreadful was the ruin of 
Mother-Russia. Besides, their Natchalnik would lead 
them over the top, and with her they would go anjrwhere. 
And what was the Natchalnik thinking about? I had 
a vision. I saw millions of Russian soldiers rise in an 
invincible advance after I and my three hundred women 
had disappeared in No Man's Land on the way to the 
German trenches. Surely, the men would be shamed at 
the sight of their sisters going into battle. Surely, the 
front would awake and rush forward like one man, to be 
followed by the powerful armies of the rear. No force 
on earth could withstand the irresistible momentum of 
fourteen million Russian soldiers. Then there would be 
peace. . • . 



IN the dusk of July the 7th we made our last prepara- 
tions before going into the trenches. The Battalion 
was provided with a detachment of eight machine guns 
and a crew to man them. A wagon load of small ammu- 
nition was also put in my possession. 

I addressed my girls, telling them that the whole regi- 
ment would participate in an offensive the coming night. 

"Don't be cowards 1 Don't be traitors 1 Remember 
that you volunteered to set an example to the laggards 
of the army. I know that you are of the stuff to win 
glory. The country is watching you set the stride for 
the entire front. Place your trust in God, and He will 
help us save the motherland." 

To the men who were standing by I spoke of the neces- 
sity of cooperation. As Kerensky had just completed a 
tour of this section, the soldiers were still under the influ- 
ence of his passionate appeals to defend the country and 
freedom. The men responded to my call, promising to 
join us in the expected attack. 

Darkness settled on earth, interrupted now and then 
by the flare of explosions. This was to be the night of 
nights. The artillery roared louder than ever as we 
stealthily entered a communication trench and filed singly 
into the front line. The rest of the regiment was pouring 
in the same direction through other conununication 
trenches. There were casualties during the proceeding. 
Some soldiers were killed, and many were wounded, 
among the latter being several of my girls. 



The order from General Valuyev, Commander of the 
Tenth Army, was for our whole Corps to go over the 
top at 3 A. M., July the 8th. The Battalion occupied a 
section of the front trench, flanked on both sides by other 
companies. I was at the extreme right of the line held 
by the Battalion. At the extreme left was Captain Pe- 
trov, one of the instructors. My adjutant. Lieutenant 
Filippov, was in the center of the line. Between him and 
me two officers were stationed among the girls at equal 
distances. Between him and Captain Petrov another 
two officers occupied similar positions. We waited for 
the signal to advance. 

The night was passed in great tension. As the hour 
set for the beginning of the attack approached strange 
reports reached me. The officers were uneasy. They 
scented a certain restlessness among the men and began 
to wonder if they would advance after all. 

The hour struck three. The Colonel gave the signal. 
But the men on my right and to the left of Captain Petrov 
would not move. They replied to the Colonel's order 
with questions and expressions of doubt as to the wisdom 
of advancing. The cowards I 

"What for should we die?" asked some. 

"What's the use of advancing?" joined others. 

"Perhaps it would be better not to attack," vacillated 
many more. 

"True, let us see first if an offensive is necessary," de- 
bated the remaining companies. 

The Colonel, the Company Commanders and some of 
the braver soldiers tried to persuade the regiment to go 
over the top. Meanwhile, day was breaking. Time did 
not wait. The other regiments of the corps were also 
vacillating. The men, raised to a high pitch of courage 
by Kerensky's oratory, lost heart when the advance be- 
came imminent. My Battalion was kept in the trench 

no yASHKA 

by the pusillanimous conduct of the men on both ffanks. 
It was an intolerable situation, unthinkable, grotesque. 

The sun crept out in the east, only to cast its rays on the 
extraordinary spectacle of an entire corps debating their 
Commander's order to advance. It was four. The de- 
bate still raged. The sun rose higher. The morning mist 
had almost vanished. The artillery fire was slackening. 
The debate continued. It was five. The Germans were 
wondering what in the world those Russians were going 
to do with their offensive. All the spirit accumulated in 
the Battalion during the night was waning, giving way to 
the physical strain under which we labored. And the sol- 
diers were still discussing the advisability of attacking! 

Every second was precious. "If they would only de- 
cide in the affirmative, even now it might not be too late 
to strike," I thought. But minutes rolled into hours, and 
there was no sign of a decision. It struck six, and then 
seven. The day was surely lost. Perhaps all was lost. 
One's blood boiled with indignation at the absurdity, the 
futility of the procedure. The weak-kneed hypocrites! 
They feigned interest in the prudence of starting an of- 
fensive on general principles, as if they hadn't talked for 
weeks about it to their hearts' content. They were plain 
cowards, concealing their fear In bushels of idle talk. 

Orders were given to the artillery to continue the bom- 
bardment. All day the cannon boomed while the men 
debated. The shame, the humiliation of it I These very 
men had given their words of honor to attack! Now the 
fear for the safety of their hides had overwhelmed their 
minds and souls. The hour of noon still found them in 
the midst of the debate! There were meetings and 
speeches in the immediate rear. Nothing more stupid, 
more empty of meaning could be imagined than the argu- 
ments of the men. They were repeating in halting tones 
those old, vague phrases that had been proven false again 


and again, to the complete satisfaction of their own minds. 
And yet they lingered, drawn by their faint souls towards 
doubt and vacillation. 

The day declined. The men had arrived at no final 
resolution. Then, about seventy-five officers, led by 
Lieutenant-Colonel Ivanov, came to me to ask permission 
to enter the ranks of the Battalion for a joint advance. 
They were followed by about three hundred of the most 
intelligent and gallant soldiers in the regiment. Alto- 
gether, the Battalion's ranks had swollen to about a thou- 
sand. I offered the command to Lieutenant-Colonel 
Ivanov as to a superior, but he declined. 

Every officer was provided with a rifle. The line was 
so arranged that men and women alternated, a girl being 
flanked by two men. The officers, now numbering about 
a hundred, were stationed at equal distances throughout 
the line. 

We decided to advance in order to shame the men, hav- 
ing arrived at the conclusion that they would not let us 
perish in No Man's Land. We all felt the gravity of the 
decision. We had nothing to guide us in the belief that 
the boys would not abandon us to our fate, except a feel- 
ing that such a monstrosity could not happen. Besides, 
something had to be done. An offensive had to be 
launched soon. The front was rapidly deteriorating to a 
state of impotence. 

Colonel Ivanov communicated to the Commander by 
telephone the decision of the Battalion. It was a des- 
perate gamble, and every one of us realized the grimness 
of the moment. The men on our flanks were joking and 
deriding us. 

"Ha, ha I Women and officers will fight 1" they railed. 

"They are faking. Who ever saw officers go over the 
top like soldiers, with rifles in hand?" 


"Just watch those women run 1" 'joked a fellow, to the 
merriment of a chorus of voices. 

We gritted our teeth in fury but did not reply. Our 
hope was still in these men. We stuck to the belief that 
they would follow us and, therefore, avoided alienating 

At last the signal was given. We crossed ourselves 
and, hugging our rifles, leaped out of the trenches, every 
one of our lives dedicated to "the country and freedom." 
We moved forward against a withering fire of machine 
guns and artillery, my brave girls, encouraged by the 
presence of men on their sides, marching steadily against 
the hail of bullets. 

Every particle of time carried death with it. There 
was but one thought in every mind: "W^U they follow?" 
Each fleeting instant seemed like an age that lurid morn- 
ing. Already several of us were struck down, and yet no 
one came after us. We turned our heads every now and 
then, piercing the darkness in vain for support. Many 
heads were sticking out from the trenches in our rear. 
The laggards were wondering if we were in earnest. No, 
it was all a ruse to them. How could a bare thousand of 
women and officers attack after a two days' bombardment 
on a front of several versts? It seemed incredible, im- 

But, dauntless of heart and firm of step, we moved 
forward. Our losses were increasing, but our line was un- 
broken. As we advanced more and more into No Man's 
Land, the shadows finally swallowing us completely, with 
only the fire of explosions revealing our figures at times 
to the eyes of our boys in the back, their hearts moved. 

Through the din and crash of the bombardment we 
suddenly caught the sound of a great commotion in the 
rear. Was it a feeling of shame that stirred them from 
their lethargy? Or was it the sight of this handful of 


intrepid souls that aroused their spirit? Anyhow, they 
were awake at last. Bounding forward with shouts, num- 
berless bodies climbed over the top, and in a few moments 
the front to the right and left of us became a swaying 
mass of soldiers. First our regiment poured out and then, 
on both sides, the contagion spread and unit after unit 
joined in the advance, so that almost the entire Corps was 
on the move. 

We swept forward and overwhelmed the first German 
line, and then the second. Our regiment alone captured 
two thousand prisoners. But there was poison awaiting 
us in that second line of trenches. Vodka and beer were 
in abundance. Half of our force got drunk right there, 
throwing themselves ravenously on the alcohol. My girls 
did splendid work here, destroying the stores of liquor 
at my orders. If not for that, the whole regiment would 
have been drunk. I rushed about appealing to the men 
to stop drinking. 

"Are you going insane?" I pleaded. "We must take 
the third line yet, and then the Ninth Corps will come to 
relieve us and keep up the drive." 

I realized that the opportunity was too precious. "We 
must take the third line and rip their defenses open," I 
thought, "so as to turn this blow into a general offensive." 

But the men were succumbing one by one to the bitter 
scourge. And there were the wounded to be taken care 
of. Some of my girls were killed outright, many were 
wounded. The latter almost all behaved like Stoics. I 
can see, even now, the face of Klipatskaya, one of my 
soldiers, lying in a pool of blood. I ran up to her and 
sought to aid her, but it was too late. She had twelve 
wounds, from bullets and shrapnel. Smiling faintly her 
last smile, she said : 

'*Milaya, nitchevor* 

*My dear, it's nothing. 


The Germans organized a counter-attack at this mo- 
ment. It was a critical instant, but we met the shock 
of the attack with our bayonets. As usual in such cases, 
the enemy turned and fled. We pursued them and swept 
them out of their third line, driving them into the woods 
ahead of us. 

We had hardly occupied the enemy's third line when 
orders came by field telephone from the Commander to 
keep up the chase so as not to allow the Germans to en- 
trench themselves, with a promise that the supporting 
corps would start out immediately. We cautiously sent 
some patrols into the woods to find out the strength of 
the foe. I led one such scouting party, and was able to 
detect that the German force was being slowly but stead- 
ily augmented. It was then decided that we immediately 
advance into the forest and hold positions there till re- 
inforcements arrived enabling us to resume the movement. 

It was the half-light hour of morning. The Germans, 
being in the thick of the woods, had the advantage of ob- 
serving every movement we made, while we could not see 
them at all. We were met by such a violent and effective 
fire that our soldiers lost heart and took to their heels 
by the hundred, reducing our force to about eight hun- 
dred, two hundred and fifty of whom were those of 
my girls who had escaped death or injury. 

Our situation rapidly grew perilous. The line running 
through the forest was long. Our numerical strength was 
wholly inadequate for it. Our flanks were in the air. 
Our ammunition was running low. Fortunately, we turned 
on the enemy several of his own abandoned machine guns. 
We stripped the dead of rifles and bullets. And we re- 
ported to the Commander that we had been deserted 
under fire by the men and were in danger of imminent 
capture. The Commander begged us to hold out till 


three o'clock when the Ninth Corps would come up to 
our succor. 

Had the Germans any idea at first of the size of our 
force we would not have remained there more than a few 
minutes. We dreaded momentarily being outflanked and 
surrounded. Our line was stretched out so that each sol- 
dier held a considerable number of feet, our force alto- 
gether covering a distance of three versts. The Germans 
organized an attack on the left flank. Aid was despatched 
from the right flank, which was left almost without ma- 
chine guns, and the attack was repulsed. In this scrap 
Lieutenant-Colonel Ivanov was wounded. There were 
many other oflicers and men lying about disabled. We 
could not spare the hands necessary to carry them to the 
first-aid dressing stations far away in our rear. 

Three o'clock came, and the expected reinforcements 
were not yet in sight. The Germans made an attack on 
the right flank. My adjutant. Lieutenant Filippov, was 
now commanding there. As our line was curved, he or- 
dered the machine guns on the left flank to direct a slant- 
ing fire at the advancing enemy. At the same time our 
artillery was instructed to let down a barrage in the same 
section, and the attack was repulsed. 

At my request the Commander sent out about a hun- 
dred stretcher-bearers to collect the dead and wounded 
scattered between our former line and the captured Ger- 
man third line. About fifty of my girls were dead or 

Meanwhile the sun had risen and time was fast pass- 
ing. Our condition grew desperate. We sent an urgent 
appeal for help to Headquarters. This shocking answer 
came from the other end of the wire : 

"The Ninth Corps has been holding a meeting. It 
arrived from the reserve billets and went forward till it 
came to the trenches we had held before the attack. 

2i6 yASHKA 

There It stopped, wavered, and began to deliberate 
whether to advance or not." 

We were struck by the news as if by some colossal 
weight. It was crushing, unimaginable, unbelievable. 

Here we were, several hundred women, officers, men 
— all on the brink of a precipice, in momentary danger of 
being surrounded and squeezed out of existence. And 
there, within a verst or two, were they, thousands of them, 
with the fate of our lives, the fate of this whole move- 
ment, nay, the fate, perhaps, of all Russia, in their hands. 
And they were deliberating ! 

Where was justice? Where was brotherhood? Where 
was manhood and decency? 

"How can you leave your comrades and those brave 
women,*' the Commander appealed to them, "to certain 
destruction? Where is honor and right and comrade- 

The officers begged, implored their men to go forward 
as our calls for help grew more and more insistent. There 
was no response. The men said they would defend their 
positions in case of a German attack, but would not par- 
ticipate in any offensive operation. 

It was in these desperate circumstances, as I was rush- 
ing about from position to position, exposing myself to 
bullets in the hope that I might be struck dead rather than 
see the collapse of the whole enterprise, when I came 
across a couple sneaking behind a trunk of a tree. One 
of the pair was a girl of the Battalion, the other a sol- 
dier. They were making love I 

This was even more overpowering than the delibera- 
tions of the Ninth Corps, which doomed us to annihila- 
tion. It was sufficient to drive one mad. My mind 
failed to comprehend such a thing at a moment when we 
were trapped like rats in the enemy's vise. My heart 


turned Into a raging caldron. In an instant I bounced 
upon the couple. 

I ran the bayonet through the girl. The man took to 
his heels before I could strike him, and escaped. 

There being no Immediate prospect for the conclusion 
of the debate In the Ninth Corps, the Commander or- 
dered us to save ourselves by retreat. The difficult task 
was that of extricating ourselves without being detected 
by the Germans. I had first one group go back some 
distance and stop, and then another and a third group do 
the same till we reached almost the fringe of the forest. 
It was a slow and perilous job, full of anxious moments 
during the shiftings of the line, but everything went along 
smoothly, and there was hope. 

Our line was drawn in, and we were preparing for the 
final dash when terrifying shouts of "Hurrah 1" sud- 
denly rang out, almost in unison, on both flanks. We 
were half surrounded I Another quarter of an hour and 
the net would have been drawn tight around us. There 
was no time to lose. I ordered a free-for-all run. 

The German artillery Increased In violence, and the 
enemy's rifles played havoc with us from both sides. I 
ran for all I was worth several hundred feet, till knocked 
unconscious by the terrific concussion of a shell that landed 
near me. My adjutant. Lieutenant Filippov, saw me fall, 
picked my body up and dashed with It through the devas- 
tating fire, the German trench system, the open space that 
was No Man's Land before the offensive, and into the 
Russian trenches. 

There the Ninth Corps was still deliberating. But It 
was already too late. As the breathless, mud-covered, 
blood-bespattered survivors of the Battalion trekked one 
by one into our trenches, it became obvious that there was 
no use in any further deliberations. The offensive move- 
ment proved abortive. The Germans re-occupied, with- 


out opposition, all the ground and trenches we had won 
at such high cost. There were only two hundred women 
left in the ranks of my Battalion. 

I regained consciousness at a hospital in the rear. I 
was suffering from shell-shock. My hearing was affected 
and, while I could understand when spoken to, I was un- 
able to talk. I was sent to Petrograd and was met at 
the station by a distinguished gathering, including many 
of my patronesses and some high army officers. Kerensky 
sent his adjutant. General Vasilkovsky, successor to 
Polovtzev as Commander of the Petrograd Military Dis- 
trict, was also present. I was showered with flowers and 
kisses. But to all congratulations I could not even reply 
with a sound, lying motionless on the stretcher. 

I was taken to a hospital and given a large, beautiful 
room. Kerensky came to see me, kissed me on the fore- 
head, and presented to me a handsome bouquet. He 
made a little speech, apologizing for the trouble he had 
given me in the controversy about introducing the commit- 
tee system in the Battalion and praising me for my brav- 
ery, declaring that I had set a wonderful example to the 
men all over the front. He invited me to call on him 
as soon as I got well. 

President Rodzianko visited me the following day. He 
was very depressed and pessimistic over the condition of 
the country. 

'^Russia is perishing," he said, "and there is no salva- 
tion in prospect for her. Kerensky relics too much on his 
own power, and is blind to what is going on around him. 
General Kornilov requested that Kerensky grant him the 
authority to restore discipline in the army, but the latter 
refused, claiming that he was able to accomplish it him- 
self in his own manner." 

While I was in the hospital a delegate from the front 
brought me a testimonial from my Corps Committee I It 


appeared that two days after I was wounded the Commit- 
tee, which usually comprised the more intelligent soldiers, 
met in session and discussed all night how they could best 
award my conduct. A resolution was passed in which 
praise and thanks were expressed to me for leading 
bravely in an attack which resulted in the capture of two 
thousand prisoners. The testimonial was a record of the 
resolution, signed by the members of the Corps Commit- 
tee. Later, the men would have done anything to revoke 
their signatures, as they deeply regretted this tribute to 
me, an implacable enemy of the Germans, from the entire 
corps, which was permeated even then with the Bolshevist 

I learned that Lieutenant Filippov took charge of the 
Battalion, gathering the survivors from all the units with 
which they identified themselves during and after the re- 
treat. However, he did not remain with the Battalion, 
resigning to join some aviation detachment in the south, 
after his reorganization of the remnant of my unit. It 
was also reported to me that the Commander of the Corps 
had reconmiended me for a cross. 

Another week passed before I recovered my speech and 
poise, although the effects of the shock did not disappear 
completely for some weeks. A woman friend of mine 
told me that Kornilov was expected to arrive in Petrograd 
on the morrow, and that his relations with Kerensky were 
strained, on account of their difference as to the restora- 
tion of discipline at the front. I telephoned to the Winter 
Palace for an appointment, and the War Minister's ad- 
jutant reported my request to Kerensky, who said that 
he could receive me immediately, even sending his car 
for me. 

Kerensky welcomed me heartily, expressing his glad- 
ness over my recovery. He asked me for the reason why 
the soldiers would not fight. In reply I told him in detail 


the story of my abortive offensive, how the men had called 
meetings to deliberate for hours and days whether to ad- 
vance or not. I told only facts, as narrated above, and 
Kerensky was deeply impressed. In conclusion I said: 

"You can see for yourself that the committees stand for 
talk, endless talk. An army that talks is not a» fighting 
army. In order to save the front it is necessary to abol- 
ish the committees and introduce strict discipline. Gen- 
eral Kornilov seems to be the man for the job. I believe 
he can do it. Not all is lost yet. With an iron hand the 
Russian Army can be revived. Kornilov has such a hand. 
Why not give him the right to use it?" 

Kerensky agreed with me generally. "But,'' he said, 
"Kornilov wants to restore the old regime. He may take 
power into his own hands and pot the Tsar back on the 

This I could notTjelieve, and I said so to Kerensky. 
He replied that he had grounds for believing that Korni- 
lov wanted the monarchy reestablished. 

"If you are not convinced," Kerensky continued, "go 
over to General Headquarters, have a talk with Kornilov, 
find out all you can about his intentions, and come back 
to report to me." 

I realized immediately that Kerensky was asking me to 
act for him in the role of a secret agent, but I was inter- 
ested. The thought occurred to me again and again : 

"What if Kerensky is right, and Kornilov really wants 
the Tsar back?" 

My country was in bad shape, but I dreaded to think 
of a return of Tsarism. If Kornilov was for the old re- 
gime, then he was an enemy of the people, and Kerensky 
was right in his hesitancy to clothe the General with su- 
preme authority. I therefore accepted his proposal. 

I was, however, troubled by the thought of the errand 
I had undertaken and resolved to go to Rodzianko, whom 


I consider my best friend, and make a clean breast of it. 
When I told him of my conversation with Kerensky he 

"This is Kerensky's old game — suspecting everybody 
of being for the old regime. I don't believe it of Korni- 
lov. He is an honest, straightforward man. Still, if you 
seem to be in doubt about it yourself, come, let's go over 
together to Headquarters. Do no spying, but tell Korni- 
lov the truth to his face." 

We took a train for General Headquarters and were 
admitted to Kornilov soon after our arrival. I told him 
frankly of what had transpired between Kerensky and me 
a couple of days before. Kornilov grew red. He jumped 
up and began to pace the room in a rage. 

"The scoundrel 1 The upstart 1 I swear by the honor 
of an old soldier that I do not want Tsarism restored. 
I love the Russian moujik as much as any man in the 
country. We fought together and understand one an- 
other. If I were only given authority, I would restore 
discipline quickly by punishing, if necessary, a few regi- 
ments. I could organize an offensive in several weeks, 
beat the Germans and have peace this year yet. He is 
driving the country to perdition, the rascal 1" 

Kornilov's words sank like daggers. There was no 
question that the man spoke from the depth of his soul. 
His agitation was real beyond a doubt. He continued to 
walk the room fiercely, talking of the certain collapse of 
the front if measures were not taken without delay. 

"The idiot 1 He can't see that his days are numbered. 
Bolshevism is spreading rapidly in the army, and it will 
not be long before the tide swamps him. To-day he al- 
lows Lenine to carry on his propaganda in the army with- 
out hindrance. To-morrow Lenine will have his head, 
and everything will be wrecked." 

We left Kornilov, and I had to decide whether to re- 


port to Kerensky or not. I must confess to a feeling of 
shame when I thought of how I carried out the errand. 
I therefore asked Rodzianko to tell Kerensky of Korni- 
lov's attitude toward Tsarism and boarded a train for 
Moscow, where I had been invited to review the local 
Women's Battalion, organized after the fashion of mine. 
There were many such battalions formed all over Russia. 

When I arrived at the barracks and was taken before 
the fifteen hundred girls who had enlisted in the Moscow 
unit, I nearly fainted at the sight of them. They were 
nearly all rouged, wearing slippers and fancy stockings, 
loosely dressed and of very nonchalant bearing. There 
were plenty of soldiers around, and their relations with 
the girls were revolting. 

"What's this, a house of shame?" I cried out in an- 
guish. "You are a disgrace to the army 1 I would have 
you disbanded at once, and will do my best to see to it 
that you are not sent to the front 1" 

A storm of protest broke loose. 

"Aha, what is it, the old regime or what?" shouted 
some indignant voices. 

"What's that? Discipline? How dare she talk like 
this?" cried others. 

In a moment I was surrounded by a mob of indignant 
men who drew nearer and nearer, threatening to kill me. 
The officer who accompanied me apparently knew the 
temper of the crowd and realized the peril I had pro- 
voked. He sent a hurry call to General Verkhovsky, Com- 
mander of the Moscow Military District, and a very pop-, 
ular man with all troops. 

Meanwhile my escort was doing his best to calm the 
raging throng which soon grew to about one thousand. 
Closer and closer the circle got to me, and I was ready 
to say my last prayers. One fellow tripped me by the 
foot, and I fell. Another let the heel of his boot down on 


my back. One more minute and I would have been 
l)mched. But God was with me. Verkhovsky arrived not 
an instant too soon and dashed into the crowd, which split 
to make way for him. He addressed a few words to the 
men. They had a magic effect. I was saved. 

From Moscow I went to the front, and when my girls 
saw me arrive there was general jubilation. "The 
Natchalnik has come back!" they sang and danced about. 
It was hard life for them in my absence, but unfortu- 
nately I did not remain long. In the evening of the day 
of my arrival a telegram came from General Kornilov, 
requesting my immediate presence. I left without delay 
for Army Headquarters, and there met the Commander 
in Chief and Rodzianko. The three of us went to Petro- 
grad to see Kerensky. It was on the eve of the great 
Moscow Assembly, which met on the 28th of July. 

During this journey Kornilov talked of his childhood. 
He was born in Mongolia, the son of a Russian father 
and Mongol mother. Conditions of life some fifty years 
ago in the Far East were such as to innure one to any 
hardships. This is where Kornilov imbibed his contempt 
for danger and spirit of adventure. He was given a 
good education by his father, who, I believe, was a 
frontier trader of peasant stock, but rose to his high posi- 
tion by sheer ability and doggedness. He learned to 
speak a dozen languages and dialects, more from mix- 
ing with all kinds of people than from books. In brief, 
Kornilov was not of an aristocratic family or brought up 
in exclusive surroundings. His knowledge of men and 
affairs was gained at first hand. His contact with the 
Russian moujik and laborer was close. Himself of reck- 
less valor, he came to love the Russian peasant-soldier 
for his disdain of death. 

Upon our arrival at Petrograd we all went together 
to the Winter Palace. Kornilov entered Kerensky's study 


first, leaving us to wait in the ante-chamber. It was a 
long wait for Rodzianko and me. Komilov remained 
locked up with Kerensky for two whole hours, and our 
ears bore witness to the storminess of the session inside. 
When the Commander in Chief finally emerged from the 
office his face was flushed. 

Rodzianko and I were admitted next. Kerensky was 
visibly agitated. He said that he had not expected me to 
carry out his errand in such a manner. I did not do the 
right thing, he declared. 

"Perhaps I am guilty towards you, Gospodin Minis- 
ter," I replied. "But I acted according to my conscience, 
and did what I felt was my duty to the country." 

Rodzianko then addressed Kerensky in some such man- 

"Botchkareva reports from the front that both men 
and officers are turning fast against you; the officers be- 
cause of the destruction of discipline, the men because of 
their desire to go home. Now, see what's becoming of 
the army. It is going to pieces. If the soldiers could 
have allowed a group of women and officers to perish, 
then the situation is critical. Something must be done 
immediately. Give untrammeled authority in the army 
to Kornilov, and he will save the front. And you remain 
at the head of the Government, to save us from Bol- 

I joined Rodzianko in his plea. "We are rapidly near- 
ing an abyss," I urged, "and it will soon be too late. 
Komilov is an honorable man, I convinced myself. Let 
him save the army now, so that people shall not say 
afterwards that Kerensky destroyed the country 1" 

"This will not happen 1" he cried out, banging his fist 
on the table. "I know what I am doing 1" 

"You are destroying Russia 1" exclaimed Rodzianko, 


angered by Kerensky's arrogance. "The blood of the 
country will be on your head." 

Kerensky turned red, then white as a corpse. His ap- 
pearance frightened me. I thought he would topple over 

"Get outl" he shrieked, beside himself, pointing to- 
ward the door. "Get out of here 1" 

Rodzianko and I moved to the exit. At the door Rod- 
zianko stopped for a moment, turned his head and flung 
a few caustic words at the Minister. 

Kornilov was waiting for us in the ante-room. We 
drove to Rodzianko's home for luncheon. There, Kor- 
nilov related to us the substance of his conference with 
Kerensky. He had told him that the soldiers were de- 
serting the front in droves and that those who remained 
were useless, as they visited the German trenches every 
night and came back drunk in the morning. The frater- 
nization had extended to the entire front. A whole Aus- 
trian regiment, well provided with liquor, came over to 
our trenches at one point and a debauch followed. Korni- 
lov repeated the experience of my Battalion from official 
reports that reached him and declared that numerous in- 
quiries from officers were coming to him daily, seeking 
instructions. But what instructions could he give? He 
had to seek instructions himself from Kerensky. 

At this point the Minister asked him what was to be 
done, and he replied that capital punishment must be re- 
established, that the committees must be abolished, that 
the Commander in Chief must be given the full authority 
to disband units and execute agitators and rebels, if the 
front was to be saved from collapse and the country from 
immense disaster. 

Kerensky replied that Kornilov's suggestions were im- 
possible, that all that could be done was for the officers 
to submit the various complications arising at the front 


to the Regimental, Corps and Army Committees for solu- 
tion. But Komilov retorted that the committees had al- 
ready, again and again, been confronted with such prob- 
lems, had them investigated and confirmed, passed con- 
demnatory resolutions and obtained pledges from the 
men that they would not repeat the offenses, but like weak 
children the soldiers would immediately resume drinking 
and fraternizing. Only rigid discipline, he insisted, could 
make the Russian army a force to be reckoned with. 
, Nevertheless, Kerensky was obstinate. He would not 
consent to put Komilov's program into action. A dead- 
lock was reached which aroused Kornilov's temper. He 
blurted out: 

"You are rushing the country to destruction. You know 
that the Allies regard us already with contempt. Should 
our front collapse they would consider Russia a traitor. 
You are under the delusion that the rank and file still 
believe in you. But almost all of them are Bolshevik! 
now. Another while, and you will find yourself over- 
thrown, and your name will go down in history as the 
destroyer of the country. All your life you fou^t Tsar- 
ism. Now you are even worse than the Tsar was. Here 
you sit in the Winter Palace, unwilling to leave, too jeal- 
ous to hand over the power to some one else. Although 
I knew the Tsar well, your distrust of me and belief 
that I am for Tsarism now is all false. How can I be 
for a Tsar when I love my country and the moujik? My 
whole aspiration is to build up a strong democratic na- 
tion, through a Constituent Assembly and a chosen leader. 
I want Russia to be powerful and advanced. Give me a 
free hand in the army and our motherland will be saved." 

Kerensky heatedly rejected Komilov's request. 

"You will have to resign," he exclaimed, "and I will 
appoint Alexeiev to your place, and fight you in the event 
of your failure to obey me 1" 


"Scoundrel 1" cried out Kornilov, and left Kerensky's 

During the luncheon Kornilov told Rodzianko that if 
Kerensky carried out his threat he would lead the Savage 
Division, consisting of tribesmen loyal to him, against 
Kerensky. Rodzianko pleaded against such action, beg- 
ging Kornilov not to war against the Government as that 
would divide the country into several factions and lead to 
civil war. After a long, private conversation Kornilov 
was induced by the President of the Duma to stick it out 
as Commander in Chief for the sake of the peace of the 

At the table I also learned that General Alexeiev had 
been offered more than once the Chief Command, but de- 
clined to take it without the authority to exercise a free 
hand. It also appeared that Kerensky grew more and 
more self-opinionated and irritable, and was reluctant to 
see people and accept advice. 

I parted from Rodzianko and Kornilov. The latter 
kissed me and pledged his friendship to me for my efforts 
to maintain discipline. I returned to the front while they 
went to Moscow to attend the Assembly. 

My heart was heavy with sorrow. It was five months 
since freedom was born, only five months. But what a 
nightmare it had become. We were at war, but playing 
with the enemy. We were free, but disorder was on the 
increase. Our best men were happy and united five 
months ago. Now, they were divided and quarreling 
among themselves. The people were divided, too. When 
the revolution first broke all were jubilating together, the 
soldier, the townsman, the peasant, the workman, the mer- 
chant. All were glad. All hoped for good and happi- 
ness. Now, there sprang up many parties that set one 
group of the" people against the other. Each of them 
claimed to have the truth. All of them promised a bliss- 


fill era, but what was good to one was evil to the other. 
They talked, argued, fought among themselves. And the 
minds of the people grew confused and their hearts 
divided. In the face of such a terrible foe as the Ger- 
mans, how long could a disunited country last? I prayed 
to God for Russia. 



IViTY girls were enthusiastic over the return of their 
^^^ Natchalnik. I reported to the Commander of the 
Corps and was invited for luncheon with the Staff. The 
officers were interested to know of events in the rear. I 
did not tell them the details of the quarrel between the 
Prime Minister and the Commander in Chief, but did 
indicate generally that a difference had developed. 

Toward the end of the meal it was reported that the 
Chairman of the Corps Committee had come to see the 
Commander on important business. It appeared that the 
corps in the trenches was to be relieved at seven in the 
evening and orders were issued to the corps in reserve, 
some versts behind, to move toward the trenches at five 
in the morning. However, they did not move. The 
Chairman now came to explain the cause of the delay. He 
was himself a patriotic and intelligent soldier and was 
treated to a seat by the General as he told the story. 

"The rascals 1" he said of the men who had elected him 
as their leader, "they wouldn't move. They are holding 
meetings all morning and refuse to go to relieve their 

We were all shocked. The General became excited. 

"What the devil 1" he exclaimed angrily. "That's un- 
heard-of I If the soldiers refuse to relieve the very men 
who had relieved them a couple of weeks ago, then it's 
no use continuing at the front, shamming war. It's a 
farce I It's no use staying here ; let them lay down their 



arms and go home and save the Government the bother 
of keeping up the semblance of an army. The villains ! 
To shoot but a few of them, and they will know their 
dutyl At seven o'clock the trenches will be empty. Go 
and tell them that I command that they move imme- 

The Chairman returned to the billets and told his sol- 
diers that the General ordered them into the trenches 
under the penalty of death. This incensed the men. 

"Aha, he is threatening to shoot!'* cried one. 

"He's of the old regime," joined another. 

"He wants to practise on us the Tsar's methods!" 
shouted several voices. 

"He is a blackguard 1" suggested a voice. 

"He ought to be killed! He would rule us with an 
iron fist I^ the men roared, working themselves up to a 

Meanwhile, the news came from the trenches that the 
men were holding meetings there, proclaiming their de- 
termination not to remain in their positions after seven 
o'clock. The General was in great difficulty. He was 
faced with the probability of his section of the front be- 
ing left entirely open to the enemy. He telephoned to 
the reserve billets and asked the Chairman of the Com- 
mittee what was going on there. 

Suddenly the General grew pale, dropped the receiver 
and said: 

"They want to kill me." 

Chief of Staff Kostayev took over the receiver and in a 
trembling voice inquired what the trouble was. I listened 
to the answer. 

"They are in an ugly mood. They have mutinied and 
threaten to mob the General. The excitement is spread- 
ing, and some of them have already started out for Head- 


The voice of the Chairman at the other end of the wire 
was clearly one of alarm. In reply to questions what the 
General could do to calm the mob he said that the com- 
mittee admired and respected the General, that its mem- 
bers tried their best to allay the aroused passions, but 
seemed helpless. 

In a few minutes several officers and men ran into the 
house, greatly agitated. 

"General, you are done for if you don't get away in 
time I" one of them said. 

Shortly afterwards Colonel Belonogov, a man of sterl- 
ing heart, beloved by his soldiers even before the Revolu- 
tion, rushed in. He brought the same tidings, asking the 
General to hide. I joined in, pleading to the Commander 
to conceal himself till the storm had passed. But he re- 

"I should hide?" he exclaimed. "What wrong have 
I done ? Let them come and kill me I I have only per- 
formed my duty." 

He went into his study and locked himself up. 

The mob was moving nearer and nearer. There was 
a deathly pallor on the faces of all those present. Every 
minute or so some one would dash in breathlessly, with 
eyes full of horror, to herald the approaching tempest. 

The tide of tumultuous humanity reached the house. 
There were cries and howls. For a second we were all 
in suspense. Then Colonel Belonogov said he would go 
out and talk to them and try to reason the matter out. 
The Colonel had a gentle voice and a gentle heart. He 
never addressed even his own orderly in the familiar form. 
When he sought sometime previous a transfer to an- 
other position, his own soldiers kept him by persuasion ^t 
his job. 

In a word the Colonel was an unique man. Without 
question there was no other officer in the Corps as fit 


as he to undertake the task of mollifying an aroused mob. 
He went on the porch and faced calmly the constantly 
swelling crowd. 

"Where Is the General? Where is he? We want to 
kill himl" the savage chorus bawled. 

"Boys, what are you doing?" the Colonel began. 
"Come to your senses and consider the order. It was 
issued to relieve your own comrades, soldiers like your- 
selves. Now, you know that this was no more than right. 
The General simply wanted you to take the places of your 

"But he threatened to shoot us 1" interrupted the men. 

"You did not quite understand. He only said gen- 
erally that to get obedience one must shoot. . . ." 

"Shoot 1" a hundred voices went up from every side, 
catching the word but not the meaning. 

"Shoot 1 Aha, he wants to shoot 1 He's for the old 
regime himself!" a thousand mouths roared, without even 
giving the ashen-faced Colonel a chance to explain. 

"Kill himl Show him what shooting isl" raged the 
vast throng, while the speaker tried vainly to raise his 
voice and get a hearing. 

Suddenly some one jerked the stool from under his feet. 
In an instant a hundred heavy heels squeezed all life out 
of that noble body. It was a horrible, terrifying scene. 
Several thousand men had turned into beasts. The lust 
of blood was in their eyes. They swayed back and forth 
as if intoxicated, crushing the last signs of animation from 
their victim, stamping on the corpse in a frenzy. 

The mob's thirst for blood mounted. The officers 
realized that every moment was precious. Kostayev 
thought that the only way to save ourselves was to escape 
through the rear of the house. 

"I will go out to them," I declared suddenly. 


The remaining ofEcers thought me mad and tried to dis- 
suade me. 

**Belonogov was the idol of his regiment, and see 
what's become of him. If you go it is sure death," they 
warned. Colonel Kostayev disappeared and several of 
the Staff followed him. 

I could not see how the situation would be saved by 
escaping. It might save a couple of lives, although even 
that was unlikely, but the mutiny would extend and might 
grow uncontrollable. "I will go out," I resolved, crossed 
myself and dashed into the infuriated mob. 

"What is the matter?" I shouted at the top of my voice. 
"What's got you? Let me passl" 

The crowd split and made a way for me to the stool. 

"Look at herl" railed some voices. 

"Eh, eh, look at this birdl" echoed others. 

"Your Excellency 1" scoffed a man. 

"Now," I began sharply, as soon as I jumped on the 
bench. "I am no *your Excellency 1' but plain Yashkal 
You can kill me right away, or you can kill me a little 
later, five, ten minutes later. But Yashka will not be 

"I will have my say. Before you slay me I must speak 
my mind. Do you know me ? Do you know that I am 
one of you, a plain peasant soldier?" 

"Yes, we do," the men answered. 

"Well," I resumed, "why did you kill this man?" and I 
pointed at the disfigured body at my feet. "He was the 
kindest officer in the Corps. He never beat, never pun- 
ished a soldier. He always was courteous, to privates 
and officers alike. He never addressed a person in a de- 
rogatory manner. Only a month ago he wanted to be 
transferred and you insisted on keeping him. That was 
four weeks ago. Did he change, could he have changed, 
in such a brief time ? 


"He was like a father to his boys. Weren't you al- 
ways proud of him? Didn't you always boast that in his 
regiment the food was good, the soldiers were well shod, 
the baths were regular? Didn't you, of your own im- 
pulse, reward him with a Soldiers' Cross, the highest 
honor that the free Russian army has to offer? 

"And now you killed, with your own hands, this noble 
soul, this rare example of human kindness. Why? 

"Why did you do it?" I turned fiercely on the men. 

"Because he was of the exploiting class," came one 

"They all suck our blood I" shouted some others. 

"Why let her talk? Who is she anyhow, to question 
us?" somebody cried out. 

"Kill her I Kill her, tool Kill them all I Enough have 
we bled! The bourgeois! The murderers I Kill her 1" 
many voices rang. 

"Scoundrels 1" I screamed. "You will kill me yet, I 
am at your mercy, and I came out to be killed. You ask 
why let me talk, who am I anyhow, as if you don't know 
me I Who is Yashka Botchkareva? 

"Who sent delegates to present icons to me, if not 
you? Who had me promoted to the rank of an officer, 
if not you? Who sent me this testimonial to Petrograd 
only a couple of weeks ago, if not you?" 

Here I drew out from my breast pocket the resolution 
passed and signed by the Corps Committee and des- 
patched to me while I was in the Petrograd Hospital. I 
had carried it with me. Pointing to the signatures, I 
cried : 

"You see this ? Who signed it, if not yourselves ? It is 
the Corps Committee, your own representatives, whom 
you, yourselves, elected!" 

The men were silent. 

"Who suffered, fought with you, if not I? Who saved 


your skins under fire, if not Yashka? Don't you remem- 
ber what I did for your brother at Narotch, when, to the 
armpits in mud, I dragged dozens of you to safety and 

Here, I turned abruptly on a gaping fellow, looked 
directly at him and asked : 

"Suppose the rank and file were to elect their own 
officers. Now, what would you do in the Commander's 
place, if you were chosen? You are a plain soldier, of 
the people. Tell me what you would do!" I thundered. 

The chap looked stupid, making an effort to laugh. 

"Ha, I would see," he said, "once I got there." 

"This is no answer. You tell me what you would do 
if our Corps were in the trenches and another one refused 
to relieve it. What would you do? What?" I de- 
manded of the whole crowd. 

"Would you hold the trenches indefinitely or leave? 
Answer me that I" 

"Well, we would leave, anyhow," replied a number of 

"But what are you here for," I shouted savagely, "to 
hold the trenches or not?" 

"Yes, to hold," they answered. 

"Then how could you leave them?" I fired back. 

There was silence. 

"That would be treason to Free Russia 1" I continued. 

The men bowed their heads in shame. Nobody spoke. 

"Then why did you kill him?" I cried out in pain. 
"What did he want you to do but hold the trenches?" 

"He wanted to shoot us I" several sullen voices re- 

"He never said anything of the sort. What he wanted 
to say was to explain that the General did not threaten 
you either, but remarked that in other circumstances your 
action would be punished by shooting. No sooner did 


Colonel Belonogov mention the word when you threw 
yourselves upon him without even giving the man an op- 
portunity to finish his words." 

"It was reported to us otherwise. We thought he 
threatened to shoot us/' the men Weakly defended them- 

At this stage the orderlies and friends of the slain 
Colonel rushed up. They raised such a woful wail when 
they saw the mutilated corpse that all words were 
drowned out. They cursed and wept and threatened the 
mob, although they were few and the crowd was of 

"Murderers I Bloodsuckers I Whom have you killed ? 
Our little father I Did soldiers ever have a better friend 
than he? Was there ever a commander who took greater 
care of his boys? You are worse than the Tsar and his 
hangmen. Give you freedom, and you act like cut-throats. 
You devils I" 

And the mourners broke out even in louder sobs. A cry 
went up that shook air. It gripped everybody's throat. 
Many in the mob wept. As the deceased's friends began 
to enumerate the various favors they had received from 
him, I could not choke down my tears and descended from 
the bench, convulsed with sobs. 

Meanwhile, in response to calls for help, a division 
from a neighboring sector arrived to quell the mutiny. 
The Committee of the Division came forward and de- 
manded the surrender of the ringleaders of the move- 
ment that resulted in the soldiers' refusal to return to the 
trenches and in the mobbing of Colonel Belonogov. There 
were negotiations between the two committees, which 
finally ended in the surrender by the mob of twenty agi- 
tators, who were placed under arrest. 

The officers who had fled and the General now reap- 
peared, although the latter was still afraid to order the 


soldiers to relieve the corps in the trenches. He asked 
me to broach the subject. 

I first addressed the men about the funeral. 

"We must have a coffin made. Who will do it?'* I 

Several volunteered to get some lumber and construct 

"How about a grave? We want to bury him with full 
military honors," I suggested next. Some soldiers offered 
their services as grave-diggers. 

An officer went to look for a priest. I sent a soldier 
to the woods to make a wreath. Then I turned and 
asked : 

"Now, will you go to the trenches to relieve your com- 

"Yes," the men answered meekly. 

It was an unforgettable scene. These thousands of 
men, aU so docile and humble, some with tears still fresh 
on their cheeks, were like a forlorn flock of sheep that had 
lost its shepherd. One could never believe that these men 
were capable of murder. You could curse them now, you 
could even strike them, and they would bear it without 
protest. They were conscious, deeply conscious of a great 
crime. Quietly they stood, seldom exchanging a word of 
regret, engrossed in mourning. And yet these very lambs 
were ferocious beasts two hours ago. All the gentleness 
now mirrored in their faces was then swept away by a 
hurricane of savage passion. These obedient children had 
actually been inhuman awhile ago. It was incredible, and 
stiU it was the truth. 

Such is the character of the Russian people. 

The coffin, an oblong box of unshaven boards, draped 
inside and out with a white sheet, was brought at four 
o'clock. The body had been washed, but it was impossible 
to restore the face to its normal appearance. It was dis- 


figured beyond recognition. I, with the help of some men, 
wrapped the body in canvas and placed it in the coffin. 
Instead of one there were four green wreaths made. The 
priest began to read the services but could not contain 
himself and broke out sobbing. The General, the Staff, 
and I, with candles in hand, sobbed too. Immediately be- 
hind the coffin, as the procession started, the dead officer's 
orderly wailed in a heart-rending voice, recalling aloud 
the virtues of his master. In our rear almost the whole 
Corps marched, including the regiment commanded by 
the deceased. The weeping was general and grew with 
every step so that by the time the procession reached 
the grave the wailing could be heard for versts around. 
As the body was laid to rest everybody dropped a handful 
of sand into the grave. Prayers were on all lips. 

The order was given that by seven o'clock the Corps 
would be moved to relieve the soldiers at the fighting line. 
I went to my girls and gave the word for them to be ready 
too. They had heard of the disturbance and passed some 
anxious moments, and therefore gave me a hearty wel- 
come. The General had telephoned to the front line that 
the Corps was a few hours late and asked the soldiers 
there to remain in the trenches for the night. The dis- 
tance that we had to cover was about fifteen versts, and 
we arrived at the front before dawn. 

The Battalion, now consisting of only some two hundred 
girls, occupied a small sector to itself, opposite the town 
of Kreva. There was no sign of actual warfare at the 
fighting line. Neither the Germans nor the Russians used 
their arms. Fraternization was general. There was a 
virtual, if not formal, truce. The men met every day, 
indulged in long arguments and drank beer brought by 
the Germans. 

I could not tolerate such war and ordered my girls 
to conduct themselves as if everything was as before. 


The men became very irritated by our militant attitude 
toward the enemy. A group of them, with the Chairman 
of the Regimental Committee, came over to our trench 
to debate the matter. 

"Who are our enemies?" began the Chairman. "Surely, 
not the Germans who want peace. It's the bourgeoisie, 
the ruling class, that is the real enemy of the people. It*s 
against them that we ought to wage war, for they would 
not listen to the German peace proposals. Why does not 
Kerensky obtain peace for us? Because the Allies will 
not let him. Well, we will drive Kerensky out of his 
office mighty quick I" 

"But I am not of the ruling class. I am a plain peasant 
woman," I objected. "I have been a soldier since the 
beginning of the war and fought in many battles. Don't 
agitate here against officers." 

"Oh, I don't mean you," he replied, trying to win me 
over to the pacificists' viewpoint. Several German sol- 
diers joined the Russian group. The discussion waxed 
hot. They repeated the old argument that the Germans 
had asked for peace and the Allies did not accept it. I 
replied that the Germans could have peace with Russia 
if they withdrew from the invaded parts of our country. 
So long as they kept our land, it was the duty of every 
Russian to fight and drive them out. 

Thus life dragged on. Nights and days passed in dis- 
cussions. Kerensky had lost almost all of his hold on the 
men, who were drifting more and more toward Bolshev- 
ism. Finally, the feud between Kerensky and Komilov 
reached a crisis. Kerensky asked the Commander in 
Chief by telephone to send to Petrograd some loyal 
troops, apparently realizing that his days were numbered. 
Komilov replied with a message through Alexeiev, re- 
questing a written certificate from Kerensky, clothing the 
Conunander in Chief with full authority to restore disci- 


pline in the army. It would seem that Komilov was will- 
ing to save Kerensky, provided the latter allowed him 
to save the front. 

But Kerensky evidently saw there an opportunity to 
restore his fallen prestige and secure his position. He 
therefore turned against Komilov, publicly declaring that 
the latter sought sovereign power and appealed to the 
workmen and soldiers to rise against the Commander of 
the army. The result was the brief encounter between the 
revolutionary masses and Kornilov*s Savage Division. 
Komilov was defeated. Kerensky triumphed and for the 
moment it looked as if he had attained his object. All the 
radical forces were united and Kerensky, as the savior 
of the revolution from a counter-revolutionary assault, 
again became the idol of the soldiers and the laboring 

The larger part of the army sided with Kerensky when 
he appealed for support against Komilov. But this arti- 
ficial state of mind did not last long. Kerensky little by 
little lost the suddenly acquired confidence of the masses, 
as he did not bring them the much desired peace. 

The soldier or officer who sided with Kornilov was 
nicknamed Kornilovetz. To call one by this name was 
equivalent to characterizing one as a counter-revolution- 
ary, advocate of the old regime, or enemy of the people. 

The inactivity of the trench life became wearisome. 
One rainy day I sent out a listening party into No Man's 
Land, with instructions to shoot at the enemy in case of 
his approach. I watched the party go forward. Sud- 
denly, a group of Germans, numbering about ten, came in 
the direction of our trenches. They walked nonchalantly, 
with hands in pocket, some whistling, others singing. I 
aimed my rifle at the leg of one of the group and wounded 

The whole front was in an uproar in a second. It was 


scandalous. Who dared do such a thing I The Germans 
and the Russians were seething with rage. Several of my 
girls came running, greatly alarmed. 

"Natchalnik, why did you do it?" they asked, seeing me 
with a smoking rifle in hand. 

Many soldiers, friends of mine, hastened next into our 
trench to warn me of the men's ugly temper and threats. 
I told them that I saw the Germans approach my girls and 
make an effort at flirtation. But this defense did not ap- 
pease the soldiers. They placed machine guns in the first 
trench and were going to wipe us all out. Fortunately, 
we were informed in time and hidden in a side trench. 
The machine guns raked our position, without causing any 
casualties. The firing was finally interrupted by the sharp 
orders of the Chairman of the Regimental Committee. 
I was called before him for an explanation. I bade fare- 
well to my girls, telling them that there would probably 
be a repetition of the episode of Colonel Belonogov's 

I was met with threats and ugly words. 

"Kill her 1" 

"She's a Kornilovkar 

"Make short shift of herl" 

I was surrounded by the members of the Committee, 
who held off the mob. Several speakers rose to my de- 
fense, but hardly succeeded in mollifying the crowd. Then 
an officer got up to talk in my behalf. He was a popular 
speaker. But this time his popularity failed. He said 
that I was right. He would have done the same thing 
had he been in my place. That was as far as he got. 

"Aha, so you are a Korniiovetz tool" shouted the 
crowd. "Kill him I Kill him I" 

In an Instant the man was thrown off the chair and 
struck in the head. In another instant he was crushed to 
death imder a thousand heels. 


Then the mob swayed in my direction. But the Com- 
mittee seized me and carried me off to the rear, hiding me 
in a dugout. One of my girls, Medvedovskaya, was placed 
at the entrance to guard it. 

Meanwhile, my girls heard of the happenings and hur- 
ried to my aid. The mob spread out to look for me and 
a part of it came to the dugout in which I was concealed. 

"Where is Botchkareva? Let us in to see if she is 
there 1" they shouted. The girl sentry said she had orders 
to shoot if they approached near her. They did. She 
fired, wounding one in the side. 

The poor girl was bayoneted by the brutes. 

The Committee and my friends, numbering about one 
hundred, insisted that I be given a trial and not mobbed. 
My girls were ready to die to the last one for me right 
there. I was taken out from the dugout by my defenders, 
who made an effort to lead me to safety for an open trial. 

The mob, now increased, pressed closer and closer. 
The two sides were fighting for me. It was agreed that 
no weapons were to be used in the scramble. The mass 
of humanity swayed back and forth, my girls fighting like 
enraged beasts to stave off the mob. Now and then a 
fellow would get close enough through the chain to land 
a blow at me. As the struggle progressed these blows 
multiplied till I was knocked unconscious. In that state 
my friends dragged me out of the tempestuous circle and 
spirited me away. 

My life was saved, although I was badly beaten up. It 
cost the lives of a loyal girl and an innocent friend. I was 
sent to Molodechno, a couple of my girls going with me 
as attendants. The Battalion was taken from the front 
to the reserve billets. But even there their lives were not 
safe. They were insulted, annoyed, called Kornilovku 
There were daily scenes. The windows of their dugouts 
were broken. The officers were powerless and seldom 


showed their faces. My instructors did their best to de- 
fend me and the Battalion, explaining that we were non- 

One morning a car came for me from Headquarters at 
Molodechno. I met there a high officer of my Corps, 
who described the intolerable surroundings in which 
my girls remained. They waited for me, refusing or- 
ders to go home, unless the Natchalnik disbanded them. 
He had sent them to dig reserve trenches in order to keep 
them away from the men. They did splendid work, he 
said, but as soon as they returned the men began to molest 
them. Only the preceding night a gang of soldiers made 
an assault on the dugouts in which my girls were billeted. 
They beat the sentry and broke in with the intention of 
attacking the women. There was a panic. Some of the 
girls seized their rifles and fired in the air. The noise at- 
tracted the attention of my instructors and many other 
soldiers, among whom there were numerous decent fel- 
lows. The situation was saved by the latter. 

But what was to be done ? Life for the Battalion be- 
came absolutely unbearable, at least at this part of the 
front. It was difficult to understand the change under- 
gone by the men in several months. How long ago was 
it that they almost worshipped me, and I loved them? 
Now they seemed to have turned wild. 

The officer advised me to disband the Battalion. But 
that would amount to an acknowledgment of failure and 
the hopelessness of my country's condition. I was not 
ready to acknowledge these. No, I would not disband my 
unit. I would fight to the end. The visitor could not see 
it this way. Wasn't I at the end of the rope if the soldiers 
had turned machine guns on the Battalion? Wouldn't I 
have been lynched if not for the desperate struggle of my 
girls and soldier friends? 

I resolved to go to Petrograd and ask Kerensky to 


transfer me to a fighting sector. I went to see my girls 
before leaving for the capital. It was a pathetic meet- 
ing. They were glad to learn of my planned trip. They 
could not stand it much longer where they were. They 
were prepared to fight the Germans, to be tortured by 
them, to die at their hands or in prison camps. But 
they were not prepared for the torments and humiliation 
that they were made to suffer by our own boys. That 
never entered into our calculations at the time the Bat- 
talion was formed. 

I took my documents along and left the same evening, 
telling my soldiers that I would not stay away longer than 
a week, which was the limit that they set on their endur- 
ance. Upon my arrival in Petrograd I went to the quar- 
ters occupied by the Battalion while in training. It took 
a very casual eye to observe that an oppressive atmos- 
phere weighed heavily on the Russian capital. The joy, 
smiles and jubilation were gone from the streets of the 
city. There was gloom in the air and in everybody's 
eyes. Food was very scarce. Red Guards were plentiful. 
Boshevism walked the streets openly and defiantly, as 
if its day had already come. 

My friends, who had taken an interest in the Battalion, 
were horrified to learn of conditions at the front. Their 
accounts of the state of affairs at the capital dejected me 
greatly. Kerensky, after his fight with Kornilov, cut him- 
self off completely from his friends and acquaintances of 
the upper classes. I went to General Anosov, telling him 
of my mission. But he would not accompany me any- 
where, although he placed his automobile at my disposal. 
I drove to the Commander of the Military District, then 
General Vasilkovsky, a Cossack who looked impressive 
and strong, but was actually a weakling. He received me 
cordially and asked for the purpose of my visit to the 


city. He had heard of the beating I got and expressed 
his sympathy. 

"But," he added, "no one is sure these days, I, myself, 
expect to be cast out at any time. It is a matter of days, 
of hours, for the Government. Another revolution is 
ripening and is at hand. Bolshevism is everywhere, in 
the factories and in the military barracks. And how is 
it at the front?" 

"The same thing, even worse," I answered, and pro- 
ceeded to tell him of all my trials and troubles, and the 
help I expected to obtain from him and the War Minister. 

"Nothing can help you now," he said. "The authori- 
ties are powerless. Orders are not worth the paper on 
which they are issued. I am going now to Verkhovsky, 
the new War Minister. Would you like to go along?" 

On the way we discussed Verkhovsky's appointment. 
He was the same man who, as Commander of the Mos- 
cow Military District, had rescued me from the mob at 
Moscow some weeks before. He was a very popular 
leader and exerted great influence on the soldiers. 

"Perhaps if he had been appointed some months ago 
he might have saved the army. But it is too late now," 
said Vasilkovsky. 

When we arrived at the War Ministry, we found that 
Kerensky was in Verkhovsky's study. We were an- 
nounced, and I was asked to come in first. As I opened 
the door I saw immediately that all was lost. The Prime 
Minister and the War Minister were both standing. 
They presented such a pathetic, heart-breaking sight 1 
Kerensky looked like a corpse, literally. There was not a 
vestige of color in his face. His eyes were red as if he 
had not slept for nights. Verkhovsky seemed to me like 
a man who is drowning, reaching for help. My heart 
sank. War had made me callous, and I was seldom 
shocked. But this time I was nearly crushed by the two 


agonized figures. It was the agony of Russia that was 
portrayed in their helpless faces. 

They made an effort to smile, but it was a smile that 
pained more than a wail. The War Minister then in- 
quired how things were at the front. "We heard you 
were badly mauled," he said. 

I gave a detailed account of everything that I wit- 
nessed and experienced myself. I told in detail about the 
lynching of Colonel Belonogov, of the officer who tried to 
defend me, of the bayoneting of my girl, of the machine 
guns that were turned on me because I wounded one of 
the enemy. 

Kerensky seized his head in his hands and cried out: 

"Oh, horror 1 horror 1 We perish I We drown I" 

There was a tense, painful pause. 

I concluded my recital with the suggestion that action 
was urgently needed or all would be wrecked. 

"Yes, action is needed, but what action? What is to 
be done now? What would you do if you were to be 
given the authority over the army? You arc a conmion 
soldier, tell me what you would do?" 

"It is too late now," I answered after some thinking. 
"Two months ago I could have accomplished a great deal. 
Then they still respected me. Now they hate me." 

"Ahl" exclaimed the War Minister. "Two months 
ago I might have saved the situation myself, if I had only 
been here thenl" 

We then discussed the purpose of my trip. I asked 
for a transfer to a more active part of the front and for 
a certificate that the Battalion was to be run without com- 
mittees. This certificate I obtained from the War Min- 
ister without delay, and still have it in my possession. 
He also agreed to my first request and promised to look 
into the matter and issue orders for my transfer. 

Kerensky was silent during the conversation. He stood 


like a ghost, the symbol of once mighty Russia. Feur 
months before he was the idol of the nation. Now al- 
most all had turned against him. As I looked at him, I 
felt I was in the presence of that immense tragedy which 
was rending my country into fragments. Something 
seemed to clutch my throat and shake me. I wanted to 
cry, to sob. My heart dripped blood for Mother-Russia. 
What would I not have done to avert that impending 
catastrophe I How many deaths wouldn't I have died at 
that moment! 

Here was my country drifting toward an abyss. I 
could see it slide down, down. . . . An)d here were 
the heads of the Government powerless, helpless, clinging 
hopelessly to the doomed ship, despaired of salvation, 
abandoned, forlorn, stricken. . . . 

"God only knows the future — shall we ever meet 
again?" I addressed the ministers in a stifled voice, bid- 
ding them farewell. 

Kerensky, livid, motionless, replied in a hoarse whis- 






I RETURNED to the front. The trains were fright- 
^ fully crowded, but fortunately I had accommoda- 
tions in a first-class compartment. At Molodechno I re- 
ported to General Valuyev, Commander of the Tenth 
Army, and'hmched with the staff. The General was 
painfully surprised to learn of the punishment I had re- 
ceived at the hands of the soldiers. 

"Did they beat you?'' he asked incredulously, finding 
it hard to imagine soldiers maltreating Yashka. 

"Yes, Gospodin General, they did,'' I answered. 

"But why?" 

I told him of the German I had wounded as he came 
over in the company of several comrades. 

**God, what has become of my once glorious army I" 
he cried out. 

As I unfolded to him the remaining phases of the epi- 
sode, he punctuated my story with exclamations of sur- 

At the end of the meal General Valuyev informed me 
that I had been promoted to the rank of Captain. 
He pinned an extra star on my epaulets and congratulated 

I was provided with a car and driven to Corps Head- 
quarters, where I reported to my Commanding General. 
He and the officers of the Corps Staff were anxious to 
know of the latest developments in the rear. I conveyed 
to them the impression made upon me by Kerensky and 
Verkhovsky two days before. 



''Their appearance is witness to the fact that all is 
lost," I said. 

"And how about the transfer?" the General asked. 
"The Battalion is waiting for you to come and take it to 
a more congenial sector." 

I answered that orders would soon arrive for the 
transfer, and showed the certificate of my right to com- 
mand without a committee. The General was glad for 
my sake. 

Meanwhile, my girls learned of my arrival. They 
formed ranks, desiring to g^ve me a cheerful welcome. 
My presence seemed to have buoyed up their depressed 
spirits. After conunending the women on their reception 
I went with them to mess. It was my custom to eat the 
same food as the girls. Only I seldom ate with them. Be- 
fore eating, I usually supervised the mess, satisfying my- 
self that everything was plentiful and in good order. I 
knew from experience that there is nothing like food to 
keep up a soldier's heart. 

Was it the promotion that put me in a happy mood, or 
my return to the girls, to whom I had grown deeply at- 
tached? I don't know. But after dinner it occurred to 
me that it would be the right thing to let the girls have 
some fun. So I suggested a game and my soldiers took 
it up joyously. As the game proceeded, many men gath- 
ered around the circle in which it was going on. They 
watched anxiously, clearly desirous to play too, but not 
daring to join in for fear lest I order the girls away. It 
was a great pleasure to observe how these grown-up chil- 
dren longed to participate in the sports. But I looked 

Finally they sent several delegates to express their 
desire to me. 

"Gospodin Captain," the men said, not very boldly, 
"we want to speak to you." 


"All right, go ahead 1" I answered, "only don't address 
me as an officer. Call me plain Yashka or Botchkareva." 

"May we be allowed to take part in the game?" they 
asked, encouraged by my words. 

"Yes, but on condition that you do not molest my girls ; 
consider them as fellow soldiers only," I declared. 

The men swore that they would behave, and the girls 
were not at all displeased at the new arrangement. They 
played for two or three hours, and the men kept their 
pledge. When the game ended they left with quite a dif- 
ferent feeling towards me. It was a feeling of respect and 
even love, instead of their former one of hostility. 

The Battalion remained in the reserve billets for sev- 
eral days. There developed, as a result of that game, a 
new attitude on the part of many soldiers toward us wom- 
en. Companies of them would come over and join the 
Battalion in sports or singing and various entertainments. 

The expected order for a transfer did not come 
promptly. Meanwhile, the time arrived to relieve the 
corps in the trenches. I determined that we had had 
enough rest and upon our arrival at the fighting line I 
put my Battalion on regular war footing. I sent out 
scouting parties, established observation posts and swept 
No Man's Land with my machine guns and rifles. The 
Germans were tremendously stirred up. Our own soldiers 
became excited too, but because of the friendly relations 
we had established in the rear, they contented themselves 
with sending delegates and committees to argue the mat- 
ter with me. 

"We have freedom now, you say," I debated. "You 
insist that you do not want to fight. Very well. I will 
not ask you to fight the Germans. But you have no right 
to ask me to act against my convictions. We came here 
not to fraternize but to war, to kill and get killed. It is 
my freedom to get killed, if I want to. Then let me 


fight the Germans at my sector. Let the Germans fight 
only against the Battalion. We will leave you alone, and 
you leave us alone." 

The soldiers reasoned that this was no more than fair 
and consented to such an arrangement. ^When they asked 
me why I was so anxious to kill Germans I told them that 
I wanted to avenge my husband who was slain early in 
the war. For this invention I had only a slight founda- 
tion — a rumor that reached me of the death in battle of 
Afanasi Botchkarev. Of course, it was an absurd excuse. 
But I used it previously and afterwards on a number of 
occasions and it finally gained large circulation and wide 

It was exhilarating to be able to do some real fighting 
again. It is true, we were a mere handful, scarcely two 
hundred girls. But we raised quite a storm. Our ma- 
chine guns rattled and No Man's Land was turned from a 
boulevard for promenading agitators and drunkards into 
No Man's Land truly. The news spread rapidly along 
the front of the activity of the Women's Battalion, and, 
I believe, that for hundreds of versts our little sector 
was the only fighting part of the line. I was naturally 
very proud of this distinction. 

For several days this state of affairs continued. Finally, 
the Germans became so annoyed that they ordered their 
artillery to bombard my position. There had not been 
any artillery fire at our sector for some time and the open- 
ing of the big guns caused tremendous excitement. Many 
of the men were caught in the bombardment and were 
killed or wounded. The Battalion's casualties were four 
dead and fifteen wounded. 

The whole Corps was aroused to the highest degree 
and a stormy meeting took place immediately. The men 
demanded my instant execution. 


"iShe wants war," they cried, "and we want peace. Kill 
her and make an end of it I" 

But the members of the committee and my friends in- 
sisted that I acted in accordance with an agreement. 
"She only engages her own Battalion in fighting," my 
defenders argued, "and leaves us alone. It is not her 
fault that the German artillery could not find the range 
quickly and killed some of our comrades." 

When word reached me of the indignation and threats 
of the men I decided to organize an offensive of my own 
and die fighting. I requested our artillery to answer in 
kind the enemy's fire. The engagement developed into a 
regular little battle. We were firing furiously. 

While this was going on and the soldiers in the rear 
were holding the meeting the news arrived of the over- 
throw of Kerensky and the Bolshevists' victory in Petro- 
grad. It was announced to the men by the Chairman and 
was hailed with such an outburst of enthusiasm that the 
shouts almost drowned the rattling of the machine guns. 

"Peace I Peace 11" thundered through the air. 

"We will leave the front now I We are going home 1 
Hurrah for Lenine 1 Hurrah for Trotzky 1 Hurrah for 

"Land and freedom! Bread! Down with the hour- 
geoisie I 

As the celebration was attaining new climaxes, the ears 
of the multitude suddenly caught the sound of the shoot- 
ing at my sector. The men were struck with frenzy. 

"Kill her! Kill them all! We have peace now!" they 
raved, and stampeded in our direction. 

Several girls dashed up to me to tell of the approach 
of the blood-thirsty mob. Almost simultaneously the 
Commanding General rang up on the field wire. 

"Run!" was his first word. "We are all lost. I am 
escaping myself. Go to Krasnoye Selo 1" 


I ordered my girls to seize their rifles and whatever be- 
longings they could and run without stopping. To one of 
the men instructors I gave the direction in wiiich we were 
to go, asking him to transmit the information to our sup- 
ply detachment. 

Meanwhile the mob was advancing. It encountered in 
the inunediate rear about twenty of my girls, who were 
engaged in the supporting line. 

These twenty prls were lynched by the maddened sol- 

Four of the instructors, who made an attempt at de- 
fending these innocent women, were crushed under the 
heels of the savage mob. 

For fifteen versts I and my remaining soldiers ran. 
Although we could see no sign of pursuers we took no 
chances. We stopped in the woods beside the road to 
Molodechno. It was dark. We drank tea for supper 
and prepared sleeping quarters under the trees. Our sup- 
ply train came up during the night and was intercepted 
by one of the sentries. 

We were up at four in the morning. I had a connec- 
tion made with the telephone wire running to Army Head- 
quarters at Molodechno, and talked to the officer in 
charge, telling him of our approach and asking for dug- 
outs. The officer replied that Molodechno was overflow- 
ing with deserters and that it was as dangerous a place 
for the Battalion as the front itself. 

But what could I do ? I had to go somewhere. I could 
not very well continue living in the forest. It was an 
awful situation. We had escaped from one mob, leaving 
twenty victims in its hands, and were running straight 
into the arms of another, perhaps even more bloodthirsty. 
So we resumed our march. Within three versts of Molo- 
dechno I led the Battalion deep into the woods and left 
it there with the supply detachment, comprising twenty- 


five men. I went to Molodechno alone, having decided 
to go over the ground first and see what was to be done. 

Groups of soldiers here and there, in the streets of 
Molodechno, stopped me with derisive exclamations : 

"Ha, there goes the Commander of the Womcn*s Bat- 
talion. She demands iron discipline. Ha, ha I'* they 
would laugh, turning to me, "What now?" 

With smiles and conciliatory answers I managed to get 
to Headquarters. I made a report to the Commandant 
and was assigned some dugouts for the Battalion. There 
were crowds of soldiers everywhere as I walked to the 
billets. They began to harangue me. 

"You were late with your Battalion," they said. "It's 
peace now." 

"I am always with you ; I am myself a common peasant 
soldier," I answered. "If you make peace now I will 
abide by your decision. I am not going to fight against 
the people." 

"Yes, you are for the people now, but where were you 
before?" they inquired. "You maintained the discipline 
of the old regime in your Battalion." 

"If I had had no discipline," I answered, "my Battalion 
would have become an institution of shame. You would 
have derided it yourselves. Women are not like men. 
It is not customary for women to fight. Imagine what 
would have become of three hundred girls among thou- 
sands of men let loose without supervision and restraint. 
You will agree with me that I acted right." 

The men liked my argument. 

"We guess you arc right about that," they nodded, and 
became more sympathetic. 

I requested their help in cleaning out the dugouts for 
my girls, and they gave it cheerfully. I despatched an in- 
structor for the Battalion and by night my soldiers were 
comfortably quartered. Under the protection of sentinels 


picked from the men attached to my unit we passed a rest- 
ful night. But our presence offered too good an oppor- 
tunity for the agitators to let go by. So In the morning 
after breakfast, as I started on my way to Headquarters, 
a small group of insolent soldiers, not more than ten in 
number, cut my path, heaping insults upon me. 

In a few minutes the ten ruffians were increased to 
twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred. I tried to parry their 
scoffs and threats, but made no headway. In ten minutes 
I was almost surrounded by several hundred of these 
uniformed rogues. 

"What do you want with me?" I cried out, losmg 

"We want to disband your Battalion. We want you 
to surrender all the rifles to us." 

Now there can hardly be a greater dishonor for a sol- 
dier than to surrender his arms without a fight. How- 
ever, my girls knew that I hated to lose my life at the 
hands of a mob. When they heard of the demand of the 
crowd they all came out, with rifles in hand. 

I made a couple of efforts to argue, but it was apparent 
that the men came with the purpose fixed in their minds 
by propagandists. They would not recede and finally cut 
me short by giving me three minutes to deCide. One of 
the ringleaders stood there, with a watch in hand, count- 
ing the time. Those were indescribably agonizing mo- 

"I would rather advance against an entire German 
army than surrender arms to these Bolshevik scoundrels," 
I thought. "But it is not my life only that is at stake. 
Everything is lost anyhow. They say that peace has been 
declared already. Have I a right to play with the lives 
of my girls? But, Holy Mother, how can I, a soldier 
true to my oath and loyal to my country, order the sur- 
render of my Battalion's arms without a fight?" 


The three minutes were up. I had arrived at no de- 
cision. Still I mounted the speaker's bench. There was a 
general quiet. The crowd of course expected my capitula- 
tion. My girls waited in great tension for their NatchaU 
nik's orders. My heart throbbed violently as my mind 
still groped for a solution. 

"Shoot 1" I suddenly shouted at the top of my voice to 
the girls. 

The men were so surprised that for a moment they re- 
mained petrified. They were unarmed. 

A volley from two hundred rifles went up into the air. 

The crowd dispersed in all directions. My order al- 
most drove the men insane with rage. They ran for their 
barracks after weapons, threatening to return and wipe 
us all out. 

The real crisis now arose. There was no question that 
the mob would return, several times stronger, and tear 
us to pieces. A decision had to be arrived at and carried 
out instantly. It would take not more than ten minutes 
for the men to come back. If we did not escape it was 
certain death. 

"In five minutes the Battalion shall be ready to march I" 
I thundered. I sent one of my instructors to the barracks, 
to mix with the crowd, and later report to me in the woods 
on the mob's activity. Simultaneously I directed the sup- 
ply detachment to follow the road in the direction of 
Krasnoye Selo. Then I called for a volunteer from 
among the instructors to take care of our battle flag under 
oath that he would defend it to his death. Accompanied 
by three other instructors, he was sent ahead with the flag. 

All this was done in less than five minutes. It was no 
ordinary feat for a njilitary unit to form in full march- 
ing formation in that space of time. But my girls did it. 
I sent one squad after another into the woods, leaving 
with the last squad myself. 


I had as our destination a certain clearing in the woods, 
seven versts deep. This distance we covered at a neck- 
breaking pace. I knew that the infuriated men would 
take the road in pursuing us and I ordered the Battalion 
through the thick of the woods. There were few of us 
who did not trip on the way several times. Our uniforms 
were torn by thorns and brambles, and many of us had 
lacerated legs and arms. There was little time for dress- 
ing the wounds. 

A couple of hours later, after reaching the clearing, 
we heard a distant whistle, the signal of the instructor I 
had left behind. He was hilarious over his experience, 
and in spite of our precarious position we enjoyed his 
story unmensely. 

The mob, it appeared, returned, as we had anticipated, 
to our billets, armed to the teeth. It was in a ferocious 
mood and rushed into the dugouts. The men were 
thunderstruck upon discovering that the dugouts were 
deserted I They ran about like madmen, scouring the 
neighborhood, but there was no sign of us. They could 
not realize that in such a brief space of time the Battalion 
had been marched away with all the equipment. 

"The witch 1" they shouted. "She must have spirited 
them away." 

But this did not seem a plausible explanation to the 
cooler heads. They telephoned to Headquarters, but re- 
ceived an answer of complete astonishment. Nobody 
there knew of my sudden withdrawal. The mob started 
along the road to Krasnoye Selo and soon overtook my 
supply wagons, which were in charge of old soldiers. 
These said that they had received orders to leave for 
Krasnoye, and they left ignorant of the movements of the 
Battalion. The mob decided that we were on the same 
road and sent a couple of horsemen to overtake us. The 
horsemen, of course, returned with empty hands. 


''She is a witch I" many soldiers shook their heads with 
superstitious awe. 

"A witch, veritably 1'* confirmed others, with uneasi- 

The four men with our flag lost their way in the woods 
and seeing that they did not come up, I sent out about 
twenty girls and instructors to look for them. They were 
finally discovered. Next we had to get in touch with the 
supply wagons, and managed to bring them to our camp. 
Once this was accomplished we were fairly well estab- 
lished behind the protection of the thickets. There was 
only one question confronting us: How to get away in 

Molodechno was not to be considered. The next station 
was also a dangerous place, as our pursuers had warned 
the garrison there of our approach and requested that 
we be dealt with swiftly. The prospects were far from 
cheerful. I decided to get into secret communication, 
through the instructors, with the Commandant of Molo- 

We camped in the forest for a couple of days, till the 
Commandant found an opportunity to slip out and come 
to see us. We held a conference, seeking a way out of 
the dilemma. 

It was agreed upon that the career of the Battalion 
was ended and nothing remained but to disband it. The 
problem was, how? The Commandant suggested that he 
procure women's garments for the g^rls and let them re- 
turn home. 

The plan did not strike me as practical. It was hardly 
possible to obtain nearly two hundred costumes for 
us in a day or two. It might, therefore, consume a couple 
of weeks to disband the Battalion, which would not be 
advisable. I proposed a different scheme, namely, to 
discharge the g^rls singly and direct them to a score of 


scattered stations and villages. This plan was adopted, 
as it did not seem difficult for individual members of the 
Battalion to board trains or obtain vehicles in the neigh- 
boring villages and get away. 

It took a day or so for the Conunandant to provide 
the necessary documents and funds for all the girls. Then 
the leaving began. Every ten or fifteen minutes a girl 
was sent away, now in one direction, now In the opposite. 
It was a pitiful finale to an heroic chapter in the history 
of Russian womanhood. The Battalion had struggled 
gallantly to stem the tide of destruction and ignorance. 
But the tide was too mighty. It had swamped all that 
was good and noble in Russia. Russia herself seemed 
wrecked forever in that maelstrom of unbridled passions. 
One did not want to live. There remained only the honor 
and satisfaction of going down with all that had been up- 
right in the country. Everjrthing seemed upside down. 
There was no friendship, only hatred. The unselfish- 
ness of the days when Tsarism was overthrown, now, 
after the fall of Kerensky, had given way to a wave of 
greed and revenge. Every soldier, every peasant and 
workman, saw red. They all hunted phantom bour- 
geois, bloodsuckers, exploiters. When freedom was 
first bom there was universal brotherhood and joy. Now 
intolerance and petty covctousness reigned supreme. 

As I kissed my girls good-by, exchanging blessings, 
my heart quivered with emotion. What had I not hoped 
from this Battalion I But as I searched my soul I could 
find little to regret. I had done my duty by my country. 
Perhaps it was too rash for me to imagine that this hand- 
ful of women could save the army from disruption. And 
yet, I was not alone in that expectation. There was a 
time when even Rodzianko believed likewise, and Brusilov 
and Kerensky thought that self-sacrificing women would 
shame the men. But the men knew no shame. 


My g^rls had departed. I alone remained of the Bat- 
talion, with several of the instructors. In the evening I 
made my way to the road where an automobile was wait- 
ing to smuggle me away. The Commandant had ar- 
ranged for me to go to Petrograd under the personal con- 
voy of two members of the Army Committee. They were 
to join me at the train. The peril lay in the journey to 
the station. Hidden on the bottom of the car, I was driven 
to the railway, where the two committeemen took me un- 
der their protection. I had decided to go home, to the 
village of Tutalsk, near Tomsk, where my people had 
moved during the war. 



pETROGRAD seemed populated by Red Guards. One 
-^ could not make a step without encountering one. 
They kept a strict watch over the station and all the in- 
coming and outgoing trains. My escorts left me on the 
station platform, as they were to return to the front im- 

I had hardly emerged from the station, intending to 
look for a cabman, when a Red Guard commissary, ac- 
companied by a private with a naked saber, stopped me 
with the polite query: 

"Madame Botchkareva ?'* 


"Will you come with me, please?*' he suggested 

"Where?'' I asked. 

"To the Smolny Institute." 

"But why?" 

"Because I have orders to detain all officers returning 
from the front," he replied. 

"But I am only going home I" I tried to argue. 

"Yes, I understand. But as an officer you will also 
understand that I must obey orders. They will probably 
release you." 

He hailed a cabman and we drove to the Smolny In- 
stitute, the seat of the Bolshevik Government. It im- 
pressed me as a heavily beleaguered castle. There were 
armed sentries everywhere. Accompanied by Red 
Guards, I was led inside. There were guards at every 





desk. I was taken before a sailor. He was very rough 
and brusque. 

"Where are you going?" he demanded curtly, 

"I am going home, to a village near Tomsk," I replied. 

"Then why are you armed?" he sneered. 

"Because I am an officer, and this is my uniform^" I 

He blazed up. 

"An officer, eh? You will be an officer no more. Give 
me that pistol and saber I" he ordered. 

The arms were those given to me at the consecration 
of the Battalion's flag. I prized them too much to hand 
them over like that to this rogue of a sailor, and refused 
his demand. He grew furious. It would have been futile 
to resist as the room was full of Red Guards. I declared 
that if he wanted my arms he could take them, but I would 
never surrender them myself. 

He violently tore the pistol and saber from me and 
pronounced me under arrest. There was a dark cellar 
in the Institute which was used as a place of detention, 
and I was sent down there and locked up. I was hungry 
but received no answer to all my calls and remained in the 
hole till the following morning. As soon as I was brought 
upstairs I began to demand my arms. The various 
chiefs, however, remained deaf to my pleas. 

I was informed that I would be taken before Lenine 
and Trotzky, and was soon led into a large, light room 
where two men of contrasting appearance sat, apparently 
expecting my entrance. One had a typical Russian face. 
The other looked Jewish. The first was Nikolai Lenine, 
the second Leon Trotzky. Both arose as I stepped in and 
walked toward me a few steps, stretching out their hands 
and greeting me courteously. 

Lenine apologized for my arrest, explaining that he 
had learned of it only that morning. Inviting me to a seat» 


the two Bolshevik chiefs complimented me upon my rec- 
ord of service and courage, and began to sketch to me 
the era of happiness that they sought to bring upon Rus- 
sia. They talked simply, smoothly and very beautifully. 
It was for the common people, the slaving masses, the 
under-dog, that they were fitting. They wanted justice 
for all. Wasn't I of the laboring class myself? Yes, I 
was. Wouldn't I join them and cooperate with their 
party in bringing happiness to the oppressed peasant and 
workman? They wanted peasant women like myself; 
they appreciated such deeply. 

"You will bring Russia not to happiness but to ruin," 
I said. 

"Why?" they asked. "We seek only what is good and 
right. The people are with us. You saw for yourself 
that the army is behind us." 

"I will tell you why," I replied. "I have no objection 
to your beautiful plans for the future of Russia. But as 
for the immediate situation, if you take the soldiers away 
from the front, you are destroying the country," I argued. 

"But we want no war. We are going to conclude 
peace," the two leaders replied. 

"How can you conclude peace without soldiers at the 
front? You are demobilizing the army already. You 
have got to make peace first and then let the men go 
home. I myself want peace, but if I were in the trenches 
I would never leave before peace had been signed. What 
you are doing will ruin Russia." 

"We are sending the soldiers away because the Ger- 
mans will not advance against us anyhow. They do not 
want to fight either," was the reply. 

It irritated me, this view of the Germans held by the 
men who now ran the Government of my country. 

"You don't know the Germans!" I cried out. "We 
have lost so many lives in this war, and now you would 


give everything away without a struggle! You don't 
know war 1 Take the soldiers away from the front and 
the Germans will come and grab everything within reach. 
This is war. I am a soldier and I know. But you don't. 
Why did you take it upon yourselves to rule the country? 
You will ruin it I" I exclaimed in anguish. ' 

Lenine and Trotzky laughed. I could see the irony in 
their eyes. They were learned and worldly. They had 
written books and traveled in foreign lands. And who 
was I? An illiterate Russian peasant woman. My lec- 
ture amused them undoubtedly. They smiled condescend- 
ingly at my suggestion that they did not know what war 
was in reality. 

I rejected their proposal to cooperate with them and 
asked if I were free to leave. One of them rang a bell 
and a Red Guard entered. He was requested to accom- 
pany me out of the room and to provide me with a pass- 
port and a free ticket to Tomsk. Before leaving I asked 
for my arms but was refused. I explained that they were 
partly of gold and given to me on an occasion that ren- 
dered them almost priceless to me. They answered that 
I would receive them back as soon as order was restored. 
Of course, I never got them back. 

I left the room without bidding good-by. In the next 
room I was given a passport and proceeded by tramcar 
to the station. I decided not to tarry in Petrograd and to 
depart without even seeing any of my friends. On the 
way I was recognized everywhere, but was allowed to 
proceed unmolested. The same evening I boarded one 
of the three cars attached to a train that went by the way 
of Vologda and Tcheliabinsk directly to Irkutsk. I was 
going home. With me I had some two thousand rubles, 
saved during my command of the Battalion, when I re- 
ceived a salary of four hundred rubles a month. 

The train was over-crowded with returning soldiers, 

268 lYASHKA 

almost all fervid Bolsheviks. I remained in the com- 
partment for eight days, leaving it only occasionally at 
night. I sent a passenger companion out, at stations, to 
buy food. As we neared Tcheliabinsk, at the end of the 
eight days, the crowd had thinned out and I thought I 
would be safe in going out on the platform and getting 
off at the great terminal for a little walk. No sooner 
had I reached the platform when I was recognized by 
some soldiers. 

"Ah, look who is here I" one exclaimed. 

"It's Botchkareval The harlot I" a couple of others 

"She ought to be killed I" shouted somebody. 

"Why?" I turned on them. "What harm have I done 
to you? Ah, you fools, fools 1" 

The train slowed down, approaching the station. I had 
scarcely turned my head away from the insolent fellows, 
when I was suddenly lifted by two pairs of arms, swung 
back and forth, once, twice, three times, and thrown off 
the moving train. 

Fortunately the momentum of the swinging was so 
great that I was thrown across the parallel tracks and 
landed in a bank of snow piled along the railroad. It was 
the end of November, 19 17. It was all so sudden that 
the laughter of the brutes back of me still rang in my ears 
as I became conscious of pain in my right knee. 

The train was halted before pulling into the station. 
In a few moments there was a big crowd around me, of 
passengers, railway officials and others. All were indig- 
nant at the outlawry of the soldiers. The commandant 
of the station and members of the local committee hur- 
ried to the place. I was placed on a stretcher and taken 
to the hospital on the grounds. It was found that I had 
a dislocated knee and my leg was bandaged. I then de- 
clared that I desired to continue the journey and I was 


g^ven a berth In a hospital coach, attached to a train going 
east There were attendants and a medical assistant on 
the can 

My Injured leg pained more and more as I proceeded 
homeward. It began to swell and the medical assistant 
telegraphed to the station-master of Tutalsk, the village 
in which my folks now lived, to provide a stretcher for 

My sister, Arina, was employed at the station as at« 
tendant at the tea-kettle, which is always kept boiling at 
Russian railway stations. It was this employment of hers 
that had caused the family to move to Tutalsk from 
Tomsk, where they had no means of livelihood whatever. 
When the message from the interne in charge of the car 
reached my sister and through her my parents, there was 
an outburst of lamentation. It was three years since they 
had seen their Marusia and now she was apparently being 
brought to them on her death-bed I 

On the fourth day of the journey from Tchellablnsk the 
train stopped at Tutalsk. My leg was badly swollen and 
was as heavy as a log. The pains were agonizing. My 
face was pallid. 

A stretcher was prepared for me at the station. My 
sisters, my mother and father and the station-master were 
at the door of the coach when I was carried out My 
mother shrieked heart-rendingly, "My Marusia 1 My 
Mankal" clasped her hands toward heaven and threw 
herself full length on me, mourning over me as If I were 
ready for burial. 

Her prodigal daughter had returned, my mother 
wailed, but in what condition I She thought that I must 
have been wounded and asked to be sent home to die. I 
could not talk. I could only grasp her bony arms as a 
gush of tears and sobs choked my throat Everybody 
was crying, my sisters calling me by caressing names, my 


white and bent father standing over me, and even the 
strange station-master. . . . 

I became hysterical and the doctor was sent for. He 
had me removed home inmiediately, promising in re- 
sponse to my mother's pleas to do everything in his power 
for me. I remained ill for a month, passing Christmas 
and meeting the New Year, 191 8, in bed. 

The two thousand rubles I had saved I gave to my par- 
ents. But this sum, considered a fortune before the war, 
was barely sufficient for a few months' living. It cost 
nearly a hundred rubles to buy a pair of slippers for my 
youngest sister, Nadia, who went bare-foot I It cost al- 
most twice as much to buy her a second-hand jacket at 
the Tomsk tolkutchka* Manufactured goods sold at a 
premium when they were to be had, but it was much more 
difficult to find what one needed than to pay an exorbitant 
price for it. There was plenty of flour in the country. 
But the peasants would not sell it cheaply because they 
could get nothing in town for less than fifty or a hundred 
times its former price. The result was that flour sold at 
two rubles a pound. One can see how far two thousand 
rubles could carry one in Russia. 

Tutalsk had also been swept by the hurricane of Bol- 
shevism. There were many soldiers who had returned 
from the front, imbued with Bolshevik teachings. Just 
before my arrival the newly-made heretics even burned 
the village church, to the great horror of the older in- 
habitants. It was not an unusual case ; it was typical of 
the time. Hundreds of thousands of blinded youths had 
returned from the trenches with the passion to destroy, 
to tear down everything that had existed before, the old 
system of Government, the church, nay, God Himself, 
all in preparation for the new order of life they were 
going to erect. 

* Market of second-hand articles. 


But one institution — the scourge of the nation — they 
failed to wipe out. They did more. They resurrected 
it. The Tsar had abolished vodka. The prohibition was 
continued in force by the new regime, but only on paper. 
Nearly every returned soldier took to distilling vodka at 
home, and the old plague of the country was in sway 
again, contributing to the building of the Bolsheviki*s new , 
world. r 'J'- ■' 

Every town and village had its committee or Soviet, 
which was supposed to carry out orders from the Central 
Government. An order was issued to confiscate all arti- 
cles of gold and silver. Committees searched every house 
for such belongings. There was, also, or was supposed 
to be, an order taxing furniture and clothes. When the 
arbitrarily demanded taxes were not paid, the furniture 
and clothes were taken away. 

In the towns it was the townsmen who suffered, in the 
villages the peasants, all under the pretext of confiscating 
the riches of the bourgeoisie. It was sufficient for a peas- 
ant to buy a new overcoat, perhaps with his last savings, 
to be marked an exploiter and lose his precious garment. 
The peculiar thing about such cases was the fact that the 
confiscated article would almost invariably appear on the 
back of one of the Bolshevik ringleaders. It was simple 
looting, and the methods were of unadulterated terror, 
practised mostly by the returned soldiers. 

I received some letters at Tutalsk. One was from my 
adjutant. Princess Tatuyeva, who had arrived safely in 
Tiflis, her home town. 

One morning I went to the post office to ask for mail. 

"There goes Botchkareva!" I heard a man cry out. 

"Ah, Botchkareval She is for the old regime!" an- 
other fellow replied, apparently one of the Bolshevik sol- 

There were several of them and they flung threats 


and insults at me. I did not reply but returned home vnA 
a heavy heart. Even in my own town I was not safe. 

"My Lord/* I prayed, "what has come over the Rus- 
sian people ? Is this my reward for the sacrifices I have 
made for my country?" 

I resolved not to leave the house again. Surely this 
craze would not last long, I thought. I spent most of 
the day reading the Bible and praying to Heaven for the 
awakening and enlightenment of my people. 

On the 7th of January, 191 8, I received a telegram 
from Petrograd, sJgned by General X. It read : 

"Come. You are needed." 

The same day I bought a ticket for the capital, parted 
from my folks and started out. I removed the epaulets 
of my uniform, thus appearing in the garb of a private. 

About this time the Germans, to the profound shock 
of the revolutionary masses, began their lightning-like ad- 
vance into Russia. It had an almost miraculous effect on 
the Bolshevik followers. The train was as usual packed 
with soldiers, but there was a different air about their 
faces and conversation. All the braggadocio had been 
knocked out of them by the enemy's action. They had 
been lulled into the sweet belief that peace had come and 
that a golden age was about to open for them. They 
could not reconcile that with the swift movement of the 
Kaiser's soldiers toward Petrograd and Moscow. 

It was refreshing, exhilarating to listen to some of the 

"We have been sold out!" one heard here and there. 

"We were told that the German soldiers would not ad- 
vance if we left the front," was another frequent expres- 

"It is not the common people, it is the German bour- 
geoisie that is fighting us now," was an argument ordinar- 
ily given in answer to the first opinions, "and there is noth- 


mg to be afraid of. There will soon be a revolution in 

"Who knows/* some would doubtfully remark, "but 
what Lenine and Trotzky have delivered us into the 
hands of the accursed Germans?'* 

There were always delegates from local committees 
going somewhere, and they talked to the soldiers, an- 
swering questions and explaining things. They could not 
very well explain away the German treachery, but they 
held out the promise of a revolution in Germany due al- 
most any day. The men listened but were not swept off 
their feet by the assurances of the agitators. One felt 
that they were still groping in the dark, although the light 
was dawning on their minds. The awakening could not 
be long postponed. 

I had a safe and comfortable journey to Petrograd. 
Nobody molested me, nobody threatened my life. I ar- 
rived at the capital on the i8th of January. The station 
was not as beleaguered as two months previous. Red 
Guards were not in such evidence in the streets, which ap- 
peared more normal. I went to one of my former pa- 
tronesses and learned of the terror in which the capital 

The following day I called on General X, who greeted 
me cordially. Kiev, he told me, had just been captured 
by 'the Germans. They were threatening Petrograd and 
the opposition of the Red Guards would not prevent or 
even halt for a day its capture if the Germans were bent 
upon it. 

$cd Terror was. rampant in the city. The river was 
full of corpses of slain and lynched officers. Those who 
were alive were in an awful condition, in fear of showing 
themselves in public because of the mob spirit, and there- 
fore on the verge of death from starvation. Even more 
harrowing was the situation of the country. It was fall- 


ing into the hands of the enemy so rapidly that some kind 
of immediate action was imperative. 

A secret meeting of officers and sympathizers had been 
held at which it was decided to get in touch with General 
Kornilov, who was reported as operating in the Don 
region. There were so many conflicting reports concern- 
ing Kornilov that it had been suggested that a courier be 
sent to him to find out definitely his plans and condition. 
After a thorough canvass, General X proposed that I, 
as a woman, was the only person that could possibly get 
through the Bolshevik lines and reach Kornilov. Would 

I go? 

"I would not join the officers here or Kornilov in the 
south to wage warfare against my own people," I replied. 
"I can't do it because every Russian is dear to my heart, 
whether he be a Bolshevik, a Menshevik, or Red Guard. 
But I will take it upon myself to get to Kornilov, for your 
as weU as for my own information.'* 

It was agreed that I dress as a Sister of Mercy. A 
costume was obtained for me, and I put it on over my uni- 
form. My soldier's cap I tucked away in a back pocket 
and put on the sister's regulation head-piece, which 
showed only my eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks, and made 
me look like a matron of about forty-five. 

A passport, bearing the name of Alexandra Leontievna 
Smimova, was furnished to me and this was to be my 
name on the way. As I wore army boots there was no 
danger of my trousers showing under the skirt. I took 
with me a letter from Princess Tatuyeva, in which she 
invited me to visit her in her Caucasus home. A direct 
ticket from Petrograd to Kislovodsk, a Caucasian resort, 
within several hundred versts of Kornilov's whereabouts, 
was given me to be used only in an emergency. It was 
agreed that in case of danger I should discard my garb 
of a Sister of Mercy, appear as my real self^ and claim« 


with the aid of the emergency ticket to Kislovodsk and 
the letter from Princess Tatuyeva, that I was on my way 
to take a cure at the resort. In addition, I was, of course, 
provided with money for expenses. 

It was great fun suddenly to lose one*s identity and ap- 
pear as a complete stranger. I was no longer Maria 
Botchkareva, but Alexandra Smirnova. And as I glanced 
at myself in the mirror it seemed even to my own eyes that 
I had been reincarnated from a soldier into a Sister of 

Upon leaving Petrograd my destination was Nikitino, 
a station which one would ordinarily pass on the way to 
Kislovodsk. Nobody recognized me on the train. Some- 
times a soldier asked: 

"Where are you going, little sister?" 

"Home, to Kislovodsk," was my usual answer. 

The next question would be about the service I had seen 
at the front, and the sectors at which I worked. I would 
reply with facts from my actual experience as a soldier. 
There was nothing strange about a Sister of Mercy re- 
turning home, and as I preferred silence and seclusion to 
conversation, I reached Nikitino, at the end of several 
days, without any trouble. 

From Nikitino all trains were switched by the authori- 
ties to other lines and sent to their destination by round- 
about routes. The road running direct south from there 
was used for military purposes exclusively by the Bolshe- 
vik forces fighting Kornilov. Thirty versts beyond, at 
Zverevo, the so-called front began. Private passengers 
were therefore not allowed to go to Zverevo. 

One could see that vast preparations were being made 
for a campaign against General Kornilov. There were 
many ammunition trains and large numbers of men con- 
centrated there waiting transportation. There was ap- 
parently no lack of money. The discipline was one of 


iron, reminding one of the early days of the war. There 
was order everjrwhere. 

The first problem confronting me was how to get to 
Zverevo. I went to the Conunandant of the station, com- 
plained that I was penniless, that I could not wait indefi- 
nitely for the end of the fighting to return home to Kis- 
lovodsk and urgently begged him to advise me what to 
do. I made such an appeal to him that he finally said : 

"A munition train is just about to leave for Zverevo. 
Come, board it and go there. Perhaps they will pass you 
through the lines at the front There is a second-class 
coach attached to the train.'* 

He led me to the car, in which were only five soldiers, 
those in charge of the train. He introduced me to one 
of them, the chief, as a stranded Sister of Mercy and 
asked for their indulgence. I thanked the obliging Com- 
mandant profusely and from the bottom of my heart. 

The train moved out, and although satisfied with the 
first step I was by no means cheerful as to my prospects 
in Zverevo, the Bolshevik war zone. The head of the 
party sat down opposite me. He was an unclean, ugly 
moujik. I did not encourage him to engage me in con- 
versation, but he evidently was totally unaware of my 
feelings in the matter. 

After the preliminary questions, he expressed his sur- 
prise that I should have chosen such an inopportune mo- 
ment to go to Kislovodsk. 

**But my mother is ill there," I lied, "perhaps she is 
dying now. It broke her heart when I went to the front." 

**Ah, that's difterent," he declared, moving over to my 
side. "They will pass you in that case." 

From an expression of sympathy it was not difficult for 
him to make an effort at flirtation. He moved up closer 
and even touched my arm. It was a delicate situation. I 
could not well afford to antagonize him, so I warded off 


his advances with a smile and a promising look. He 
treated me to a good meal, at which the conversation 
turned to general conditions. He was, of course, a rabid 
Bolshevik and a savage opponent of Kornilov and all 
officers. My part in the conversation was confined to 
brief expressions of acquiescence. Suddenly he asked: 

"Have you heard of the Women's Death Battalion?" 

My heart thumped violently. 

"What Battalion did you say?" I asked with an air of 

"Why, Botchkareva's Battalion I" he replied in a posi- 
tive voice. 

"Botchkareva's ?" I asked reminiscently. "Oh, sure, 
Botchkareva, yes, I heard about her." 

"The 1 She is a Komilovkal" he exclaimed. 

"She is for the old regime." 

"How do you know?" I asked. "I thought she was 

"We know them all, the counter-revolutionists I She 
is one of them," my companion declared emphatically. 

"Well, there is no more Battalion of Death anyhow, 
and Botchkareva has apparently vanished," I suggested. 

"Yes, we know how they vanish. Many of them have 
vanished like that. Kornilov had vanished too. Then 
they all pop up here and there and cause trouble/' he 
enlightened me. 

"Now what would you do to her if she showed up 
here?" I dared to inquire. 

"Kill her. She would never leave here alive, you can 
bet," he assured me. "We have the photographs of all the 
leading counter-revolutionaries, so that they can't hide 
their identities if caught." 

The conversation took a more satisfactory turn for me. 
I learned all about the plans of the Bolshevik force 
against Kornilov. The arrival of the train at Zvcrevo 


put an end to my association with the fellow. I thanked 
him very much for all his favors to me, 

"You know, sister," he unexpectedly addressed me be- 
fore parting, "I like you. Will you marry me?" 

This I didn't anticipate. It rather took me aback. He 
was such an awful-looking, dirty creature, and the pro- 
posal was so ludicrous that it was with difficulty that I 
mastered my desire to laugh. This was no place for fun- 
making, however. 

"Yes, with pleasure," I responded to his offer, with as 
much graciousness as I could command, "but after I see 
my mother." 

He gave me his address and asked me to write to him, 
which I promised. Perhaps he is still waiting for a letter 
from me. 

I left him at the train and went toward the station. 
There were Red Guards, sailors, soldiers, even Cossacks 
who had joined the Bolsheviki, on the platform and in- 
side. But there were no private citizens in sight. I sat 
down in a corner and waited. Taken for a nurse attached 
to the Bolshevik army, I was not molested. An hour, two, 
three, passed and still I could find no opening to proceed 
to my destination. A civilian, who somehow found him- 
self in the station, was placed under arrest before my eyes 
without any preliminaries. I, therefore, preferred to sit 
quietly in my comer than move about. 

Finally, a pleasant-looking young soldier became inter- 
ested in me. He walked up and asked : 

"Why are you waiting here, sister ?" 

"I am waiting for a comrade," I answered. 

"What is his name?" he inquired, interested. 

"Oh, that is a secret," I replied in an intriguing man- 

He sat down near me, questioning if I had worked at 


the front. I said that unfortunately I had been detailed 
only to hospitals in the rear. 

"Why was that man arrested?" I ventured to ask. 

**Because he had no papers from the Soviet," was the 
reply. "He will be shot immediately." 

"Do you execute everybody who has no papers?" I 
wanted to know. 

"Everybody, without distinction." 

"Even women?" I inquired. 

"Yes, even women," came in answer. "This is a war 

"Holy Mother I" I exclaimed with horror. "How terri- 
ble I You slay them all, ah? Without a trial even?" 

"There is little time for trials here. Once fallen here, 
there is no escape. Our firing squads finish all suspects 
on the spot," he informed me kindly. "Come, you want 
to see the execution grounds right near here?" 

I followed him reluctantly. Several hundred feet away 
from the station we stopped. I could not go further. 
The field in front of us was covered with scores of man- 
gled, half-naked corpses. It made my flesh creep. 

"There are about two hundred of them here, mostly 
officers who had joined or sought to join Kornilov," he 

I could not help shivering. The dreadful scene nearly 
shattered my nerves and I had to strain all my energies 
not to collapse. 

"Ah, you women, women," my escort nodded sympa- 
thetically. "You are all weak. You don't know what war 
is. Still," he admitted, "there are some who can compare 
with men. Take Botchkareva, for instance, she would not 
shudder at sights like this." 

"Who is she, this Botchkareva?" I was curious. 

"Haven't you heard of her?" he asked in surprise. 
"Why, she was a soldier of the old regime and organized 

28o yASHKA 

the Women's Battalion of Death. She is for Komilov 
and the bourgeoisie. They gave her an officer's rank 
and bought her over to their side, although she is of 
peasant blood." 

It was all very interesting, this theory of my corrup- 
tion. I had heard it before, but not in such clear-cut 
form. At the same time the picture of those mangled 
bodies occupied my vision, and the thought rankled in my 
mind of the treacherous Bolsheviki who had opposed cap- 
ital punishment in the war against Germany but intro- 
duced it in a most beastly fashion in the war against their 
own brothers. 

I then told my friend of the trouble in which I found 
myself, that I was moneyless, had to get home to Kis- 
lovodsk and did not know how to get through the front. 
He explained to me that the so-called front was not a 
continuous line but a series of posts, maintained on this 
side by the Bolsheviki and on the opposite side by Kor- 

**Sometimes," he added, "the peasants of the neighbor- 
ing villages are allowed by both sides to pass through to 
Novotcherkask, Komilov's headquarters. If you take 
that road," and he pointed at it, "you will get to a village 
four versts from here. One of the peasants may agree to 
carry you across." 

I thanked him for the valuable information, and we 
parted friends. The walk to the village was uneventful. 
At the edge of it I saw an old moujik working outside of 
his cabin. There was a stable and horses on the grounds. 

"Good day, diedushkaP** I greeted the old man. 

"Good day, little sister," he answered. 

"Would you drive me to the city?" I asked. 

"Great God I How is it possible? The Bolsheviks are 

* Grandfather, 


warring before the city, and they don't pass anybody," he 

"But people do go sometimes, don't they?" 

"Yes, sometimes they do." 

"Well, I will pve you fifty rubles for driving me to 
the city," I offered. 

The moujik scratched his neck, reconsidering the mat- 

"But aren't you a politichka?^' * he inquired cautiously. 

"No," I assured him, "I am not." 

He went into the cabin to talk it over with his baba. 
It was a lucrative job and her consent was apparently 
quickly obtained, for he soon returned and said: 

"All right, we will go. Come into the house. We will 
have tea and something to eat." 

The invitation was welcome indeed, as I had grown 
hungry during my long wait at the station and the walk 
to the village. When we finished with the samovar and 
lunch and the peasant harnessed his horse, I asked for a 
large apron, which I put on top of my clothes. I then 
asked for the babels winter shawl and wrapped my head 
and shoulders, almost covering my face completely, so 
that I no longer appeared as a Sister of Mercy, but a 
baba of the neighborhood. 

Praying to God for a safe passage, I seated myself in 
the vehicle. The horse started off along the road. 

The Bolshevik front was still ahead of me. But I 
was making progress. • • • 

*A woman political. 



T][7HAT shall I say to the guards?*' the moujik 
^^ asked me as we approached the front positions. 

"Tell them that you are carrying your sick baba to a 
hospital in the city, as she is suffering from high fever/* 
I answered, requesting him to wrap me in the huge fur 
overcoat that was under him. I was warm enough with- 
out it, but I thought that It would raise my temperature 
even more, and was not wrong. Under all the covers I 
resembled more a heap than a human form. When the 
battle positions were reached I began to moan as if in 

"Where are you going?" I heard a voice ask my driver 
sharply, as the horse stopped. 

"To a hospital in the city,** was the answer. 

"What are you carrying?** 

"My baba. She is dying. I am taking her to a doc- 
tor," the peasant replied. 

Here I groaned louder than ever. I was suffocating. 
My heart hammered from fear of sudden exposure and 
discovery. Every particle of time seemed an age. 

The sentry who halted us apparently talked the case 
over with some of his comrades, to the accompaniment 
of my exuberant moans. Without uncovering my face 
he issued a pass to the moujik. 

My heart thumped with joy as the horse started off at 
a rapid pace. For a while I still held my breath, hardly 
believing my senses that I had left Bolshevik territory 
behind me with so little difficulty. 



After some time we arrived at the Komilov front. 
The posts along it were held by officers, of whom his 
force consisted almost exclusively. At one such post we 
were stopped by a commanding "Haiti" 

The driver was starting to rehearse the yarn about his 
feverish baba when I surprised him by throwing off the 
fur topcoat, then the shawl, and jumping out of the vehi- 
cle, issuing a deep sigh of relief. I could not help laugh- 

The moujik must have thought me mad at first. The 
officers at the post could not understand it either. 

"What the devil I" a couple of them muttered under 
their breath. I proceeded very coolly to pay out the fifty 
rubles to the peasant, discharging him there, to his great 

"I will get to the city from here all right," I informed 

"Like hell you will 1" the officer in charge blurted out. 
"Who are you?" 

"Why, can^t you see, I am a Sister of Mercy," I an- 
swered testily. 

"Where are you going?" 

"I am going to see General Kornilov," I giggled. 

The officers were getting furious. 

"You will not go a step further," the chief ordered. 

"Oh, yes, I will too," I announced emphatically. 

"You are arrested I" the examiner commanded. 

I broke out in a fit of laughter, bringing the officers to 
white anger. 

"Don't you recognize me? I am Botchkareva," and 
I threw off the head-dress of the Sister of Mercy. The 
officers gasped, immediately crowding, around me with 
congratulations and hand-shakes. Komilov was notified 
by telephone of my arrival and the joke I had played on 
the sentries. 


"How do you do, litde sister?" he greeted me laugh- 
ingly when I was brought to his headquarters. My ar- 
rival and the way I got through the lines amused him very 
much. He looked very thin and somewhat aged, but as 
energetic as ever. 

I reported to him that I was sent from Petrograd by 
General X and other officers, for the purpose of ascer- 
taining his plans and exact condition. I also informed 
him that the Bolsheviki were making big preparations for 
an attack against him, that I had seen eleven cars with 
ammunition at Zverevo, and that the blow was due in a 
couple of days. 

Komilov replied that he knew of the impending of- 
fensive and that his condition was precarious. He had 
no money and no food, while the Bolsheviki were amply 
supplied with both. His soldiers were deserting him one 
by one. He was cut oS from his friends and surrounded 
by enemies. 

"Did you wish to remain with me and join my force?'* 
he asked me. 

"No," I said, "I could not fight against my own peo- 
ple. The Russian soldier is dear to me, although he has 
been led astray for the present." 

"It is also very hard for me to fight the boys that I 
loved so much," he declared. "But they have turned beasts 
now. We are fighting for our lives, for our uniforms. 
The life of evcry^ Russian officer is at the mercy of the 
mob. It is a question of organizing for self-defense. One 
can expect to do little for the country, if the Bolsheviks 
are waging civil war when the Germans are advancing into 
Russia. This is a time for peace and union among all 
classes. It is a time for presenting a united front to the 
enemy of the motherland. But Bolshevism has clouded 
the minds of the people. What is necessary, therefore, is 
to enlighten the masses. We can't hope to enlighten them 


by fighting. If it were possible to organize a counter- 
propaganda, to "convince the Russian peasants that the 
Bolsheviks are speeding our country to complete destruc- 
tioAy then. they would rise and put an end to Lenine and 
Trotzky, elect a new Government, and drive the Germans 
out of Russia. This is the only solution that I can see, 
unless the Allies aid us in conciliating our soldiers and re- 
establishing a front against Germany." 

This, in substance, was Kornilov's view of conditions 
in Russia, when I saw him in February, 191 8. I re- 
mained only one day at His headquarters. From conver- 
sations with the men attached to his Staff, I learned that 
Kornilov's force comprised only about three thousand 
fighters. The Bolshevik army opposing it was perhaps 
twenty times its strength. I left Novotcherkask in the 
evening, after an affectionate parting from Kornilov. He 
kissed me farewell and I wished him success for the good 
of the country. But there was no success in prospect. 
We both knew it only too well. A heavy darkness had 
settled on Russia, stifling all that was still noble and 

Encouraged by my success in reaching there, I deter- 
mined to return by myself. I was taken to the battle posi- 
tions by a group of officers, and from there, accompanied 
by their blessings, I started out through the battle zone 
alone. I crawled on all fours as if through No Man's 
Land, making a couple of versts without any mishap. 
The experience gained at the front came in handy. I 
scented the approach of a patrol and hid just in time to 
escape being observed. The patrol turned out to be of 
Kornilov's force, but I remained hidden. After some 
more crawling I caught the sound of voices coming from 
the direction of a coal mine and judged the place to be one 
of the front positions. Exercising extreme caution, I 
managed to pass beyond it safely. Some distance away, 


dimly standing out against the horizon, was a wood. 

A Bolshevik force got wind of the patrol I had en- 
countered and went out to capture it by a flank operation. 
I decided to conceal myself behind a pile of coal and wait 
till quiet was restored. On my right and left were dumps 
of coal, too. 

Hugging the chunks of coal, I breathlessly awaited the 
outcome of the maneuver. In a short while the Bolshe- 
viks returned with their prey. They had captured the 
patrol I There were twenty captives, fifteen officers and 
five cadets, I learned. They were led to a place only a 
score or so feet away from the coal pile that hid me. 

The hundred Bolshevik soldiers surrounded the offi- 
cers, cursed them, beat them with the butts of their rifles, 
tore off their epaulets and handled them like dogs. The 
five youthful cadets must have suddenly discovered an 
opportunity to slip away, for they dashed off a few min- 
utes afterwards. But they failed to escape. They were 
caught within several hundred feet and brought back. 

The Bolshevik soldiers then decided to gouge out the 
eyes of the five youths in punishment for their attempt to 
nm away. Each of the marked victims was held by a 
couple of men in such a position as to allow the bloody tor- 
turers to do their frightful work. In all my experiences of 
horror this was the most horrible crime I ever witnessed. 

One of the officers could not contain himself and 
shrieked : 

"Murderers I Beasts I Kill me 1" 

He was struck with a bayonet, but only wounded. All 
the fifteen officers begged to be killed right there. But 
their request would not be granted. 

"You have to be taken before the Staff first,'* was the 
answer. Soon they were led away. 

The five martyrs were left to expire in agony where 
they were. 


My heart was petrified. My blood congealed. I 
thought I was going insane, that in a second I would not 
be able to control myself and would jump out, inviting 
death or perhaps similar torture. 

I finally collected strength to turn about and crawl 
away, in the opposite direction, toward the woods. At a 
distance of several hundred feet from the forest it seemed 
to me safe to rise and run for it. But I was noticed from 
the mine. 

*'A spy I" went up in a chorus from several throats, 
and a number of soldiers were after me, shooting as they 

Nearer and nearer the pursuers came. I raced faster 
than I ever did before in my life. Within another hun- 
dred feet or so were the woods. There I might still 
hope to hide. I prayed for strength to get there. Bullets 
whistled by me, but firing on the run, the men could not 
take aim. 

The woods, the woods, to them my whole being was 
swept forward. Louder and louder grew the shouts be- 
hind me : 

"A she-spy! A she-spy I" 

The woods were within my reach. Another bound, and 
I was in them. Onward I dashed like a wild deer. Was 
it because there were only several soldiers left at the post 
and they could not desert it to engage in a hunt, or be- 
cause the men decided that I could not escape from the 
forest anyhow, that my pursuers did not follow me into 
the woods? I know only that they were satisfied with 
sending a stream of bullets into the forest and left me 

I concealed myself in a burrow till absolute calm was 
restored. Then I got out and tried to figure out the 
right direction, but I fell into an error at first and returned 
to the edge at which I entered. I then walked to the op- 


posite side, struck a path and before taking it, I threw 
off my costume of a Sister of Mercy and hid it in a bush, 
drew out my soldier^s cap, destroyed the passport of 
Smirnova, and appeared again in my own uniform. I 
realized that reports must have been sent out by my pur- 
suers of a spy in the dress of a nurse and determined that 
as Botchkareva I might still stand a chance for life, but 
as Smirnova I was done for. 

Day was breaking, but it was still dark in the woods. 
I met a soldier, who greeted me. I answered gruffly, and 
he passed on, evidently taking me for a comrade. A lit- 
tle later I encountered two or three other soldiers but 
again passed them without being suspected. I pulled out 
my direct ticket to Kislovodsk and the letter from Princess 
Tatuyeva. These were my two chief reliances. After 
walking for almost twenty versts I came in view of the 
station at Zverevo. A decision had to be adopted without 
delay. Loitering would surely land me in trouble, I con- 
sidered, and so I made up my mind to go straight to the 
station, announce my identity, claim that I had lost my 
way and surrender myself. 

When I opened the door of the station, filled with Red 
Guards, and appeared on the threshold, the men gaped at 
me as if I were an apparition. 

"Botchkareva I" they gasped. 

Without stopping to hear them, I walked up to the first 
soldier, with my legs trembling and my heart in my mouth, 
and said : 

"Where is the Commandant? Take me to the Com- 
mandant 1" 

He looked at me hastily, but obeyed the order and led 
me to an office, also packed with Red Guards, where a 
young chap, not more than nineteen or twenty, was intro- 
duced to me as the head of the investigation committee, 
who was acting as chief in the absence of the Command- 


ant. Again everybody emitted ejaculations of surprise at 
my unexpected appearance. 

"Are you Botchkareva?" the young fellow inquired, 
showing me to a seat. I was pale, weak and travel-worn, 
and sank into the chair thankfully. Looking at the chief, 
hope kindled in my breast. He had a noble, winning 

"Yes, I am Botchkareva," I answered. "I am going 
to Kislovodsk, to cure my wound in the spine, and I lost 
my way." 

"What has come over you? Are you in your senses? 
We are preparing for an offensive against Kornilov just 
now. How could you ever take this route at this time? 
Didn't you know that your appearance here would mean 
your certain death?" the young man asked, greatly agi- 
tated over my fatal blunder. 

"Why," he continued, "I just had a telephone call tell- 
ing that a woman-spy had crossed from Kornilov's side 
early this morning. They are looking for her now. You 
see the quandary into which you have fallen 1" 

The youthful chief was apparently inclined toward me. 
I thought it worth trying to win him over completely. 

"But I came myself," I broke out in tears, punctuating 
them with sobs. "I am innocent. I am just a sick woman, 
going to seek a cure at the springs. Here is my ticket 
to Kislovodsk and here is a letter from a friend of mine, 
my former adjutant, inviting me to come to the Caucasus. 
Surely you will not murder a poor, sick woman, if not for 
my own sake, at least for the sake of my forlorn parents." 

Several of the Red Guards present cut short my plead- 
ing with angry cries : 

"Kill her I What is the use of letting her talk I Kill 
her, and there will be one slut less in the world 1" 

"Now wait a minute I" the Acting Conunandant inter- 
rupted. "She has come to us of her own volition and is 


not one of the officers that are opposing us. There will 
be an investigation first and we will ascertain whether she 
is guilty or innocent. If she be guilty, we will shoot her." 

The words of the chairman of the investigation com- 
mittee gave me courage. One could see that he was an 
educated, humane chap. Subsequently I learned that he 
was a university student. His name was Ivan Ivanovitch 

As he was still discoursing, a man dashed in like a 
whirlwind, puffing, perspiring, but rubbing his hands in 

"Ah, I just finished a good job I Fifteen of them, all 
officers I The boys got them like that," and he bowed 
and made a sign across the legs. "The first volley pep- 
pered their legs and threw them in a heap on the ground. 
Then they were bayoneted and slashed to pieces. Ho, 
ho, hoi There were five others captured with them, 
cadets. They tried to escape and the good fellows gouged 
their eyes out!" 

I was petrified. The newcomer was of middle height, 
heavily built, and dressed in an officer's uniform but with- 
out the epaulets. He looked savage, and his hideous 
laughter sent shudders up my spine. The boodthirsty 
brute I Even Petrukhin's face grew pale at his entrance. 
He was no less a person than the assistant to the Com- 
mander in Chief of the Bolshevik Army. His name was 

He did not notice me at first, so absorbed was he In the 
story of the slaughter of the fifteen officers. 

"And here we have a celebrity," Petrukhin said, point- 
ing at me. 

The Assistant Commander made a step forward in mili- 
tary fashion, stared at me for an instant and then cried 
out in a terrifying voice: 

"Botchkareva 1" 


He was beside himself with joy. 

"Ho, ho, hoi" he laughed diabolically. "Under the 
old regime I would have gotten an award of the first 
class for capturing such a spy! I will run out and tell 
the soldiers and sailors the good news. They will know 
how to take care of her. Ho, ho, ho 1" 

I arose thunder-stricken. I wanted to say something 
but was speechless. Petrukhin was deeply horrified too. 
He ran after Pugatchov, seized him by the arm, and 
shouted : 

"What is the matter; have you gone insane? Madame 
Botchkareva came here herself. Nobody captured her. 
She is going to Kislovodsk for a cure. She is a sick wom- 
an. She claims that she lost her way. Anyhow, she 
never fought against us. She returned home after we 
took over the power.'* 

"Ah, you don't know her I" exclaimed Pugatchov. "She 
is a Kornilovka, the right hand of Komilov." 

"Well, we are not releasing her, are we?" parried Pe- 
trukhin. "I am going to call the committee together and 
have an investigation of her story made." 

"An investigation I" scoffed Pugatchov. "And if you 
don't find any evidence against her, will you let her go? 
You don't know her? She is a dangerous character I 
How could we afford to save her ? I wouldn't even waste 
bullets on her. I would call the men and they would make 
a fine kasha of herl" 

He made a motion toward the door. Petrukhin held 
on to him. 

"But consider, she is a sick woman!" [le pleaded. 
"What is the investigation committee for if not to investi- 
gate before punishing? Let the committee look into the 
matter and take whatever action it considers best." 

At this point the Commandant of the station arrived. 
He supported Petrukhin. "You can't act like that in such 


a case/' he said ; ''this Is clearly a matter for the Investi- 
gation committee. If she is found guilty, we will execute 

Petrukhin went to summon the members of the investi- 
gation committee, who were all, twelve in number, com- 
mon soldiers. As soon as he broached the news to each 
juror, he later told me, the man became threatening, talk- 
ing of the good fortune that brought me into their hands. 
But Petrukhin argued with each of them in my favor, 
as he was convinced of the genuineness of my alibi. In 
such a manner he won some of them over to my side. 

Meanwhile Pugatchov paced the room like a caged 
lion, thirsting for my blood. 

"Ah, if I had only known it before, I would have had 
you shot in company with those fifteen officers 1" he ad- 
dressed me. 

"I would not have the heart to shoot at my own broth- 
ers, soldier or officer," I remarked. 

*'Eh, you are singing already," he turned on me. "We 
know your kind." 

"All in all," I declared, "you are not better than the 
officers of the old regime." 

"Silence I" he commanded angrily. 

Petrukhin came in with the committee at that Instant. 

"I beg you not to yell," he turned to Pugatchov, feel- 
ing more confident with the committeemen at his back. 
"She is in our hands now, and we will do justice. It is 
for us to decide if she is guilty. Leave her alone." 

There were only ten jurors within reach. The other 
two members were absent and the ten, being in the ma- 
jority, decided to go on with the work. 

"Whether you find her guilty or not, I will not let her 
get out of here alive !" Pugatchov declared. "What am 
I?" he added. "I am no enemy either." 

However, this threat worked in my favor, as it touched 


the committee's pride. They were not to be overridden 
like that. Pugatchov demanded that I be searched. 

"Please, I am at your disposal," I said, "but before 
you go ahead I want to hand over to you this package of 
money. There are ten thousand rubles in it, sent to me 
by Princess Tatuyeva, my former adjutant, to enable me 
to take the cure at the springs. I kept this money intact, 
because I hoped to return it to her upon reaching the 

The money had in reality been given to me by Korni- 
lov, to secure my parents and myself from starvation in 
the future. 

The valuable package was taken away, without much 
questioning. I was then ordered to undress completely. 
Petrukhin protested against it, but Pugatchov insisted. 
The dispute was settled by a vote, the majority being for 
my undressing. 

The search was painstaking but yielded nothing. 
There was the ticket to Kislovodsk, the letter from Prin- 
cess Tatuyeva, a little bottle of holy water, given to me 
by my sister Nadia, and a scapula, presented to me before 
leaving for the front by one of the patronesses of the 

"Ah, now we have got it!" exclaimed Pugatchov, seiz- 
ing the hallowed bag. "There is the lettjer from Kor- 

The pad was ripped open and a scroll of paper was 
taken out on which a psalm had been written in a woman's 
hand. I declared that the sin of tearing it open would 
fall on their heads and that I would not sew it up again. 
One of the soldiers obtained a needle and thread and 
sewed the bag together. 

The members of the committee excused themselves for 
being constrained to have me searched in such a manner. 

"What will you do with me now?" I asiked. 


"Wc will have you shot I" answered Pugatchov. 

"What for?" I demanded in despair. 

The beast did not reply. He smiled. 

Petrukhin was afraid to defend me too much, lest he 
be suspected of giving aid to a spy. He preferred to 
work indirectly for me, by influencing the committeemen 
individually. It was decided that the case be submitted 
to the Commander in Chief, Sablin, for review and sen- 
tence, I believe, on the motion of Petrukhin. This was 
just a trick to stave off immediate execution, but the ex- 
pectation among the men was that my death was certain. 
Nevertheless, I was profoundly grateful to Petrukhin for 
his humane attitude. He was a man of rare qualities, and 
among Bolsheviks he was almost unique. 

I was ordered to a railway carriage used as a jail for 
captured officers and other prisoners. It was a death 
chamber. Nobody escaped alive from there. When I 
was led inside, there went up a cry:, 

"Botchkareva I How did you get here ? Coming from 

**No," I answered, "I was on my way to Kislovodsk." 

There were about forty men in the car, the larger part 
officers. Among the latter were two Generals. They 
were terribly shocked at my appearance among them. 
When my convoys left, the prisoners talked more freely. 
To some of them I even told the truth, that I had actually 
been to Komilov. None of them gave me any hope. All 
were resigned to death. 

One of the Generals was an old man. He beckoned to 
me and I sat down beside him. 

''I have a daughter like you," he said sadly, putting his 
arm around my shoulders. "I had heard of your brave 
deeds and came to love you as much as my own girl. But 
I never expected to meet you here, in this death-trap/ 
Isn't it dreadful ? Here we are, all of us, the best men 


of the country, being executed, tormented, crushed by 
the savage mob. If it were only for the good of Russia ! 
But Russia is perishing at this very moment Perhaps 
God will save you yet. Then you will avenge us. . . ." 

I broke down, convulsed with sobs, and leaned against 
the General's shoulder. The old warrior could not re- 
strain himself either and wept with me. . . . 

The other officers suddenly sang out in a chorus. They 
sang from despair, in an effort to keep from collapsing. 

I cried long and bitterly. I prayed for my mother. 

"Who would sustain her?" I appealed to Heaven. 
"She will be forced to go begging in her old age if I am 
put to death." Life became very precious to me, the 
same life that I had exposed to a hundred perils. I did 
not want to die an infamous death, to lie on the field un- 
buried, food for carrion crows. 

"Why haven't you allowed me to die from an enemy's 
bullet?" I asked of God. "How have I deserved being 
butchered by the hands of my own people?" 

The door swung open. About forty soldiers filed in. 
Their leader had a list of names in his hand. 

"Botchkareva !" he called out first. 

Somehow my heart leaped with joy. I thought I would 
be released. But the officers immediately disillusioned 
me with the statement that it was a call for execution. 
I stepped forward and answered: 

"I am here !" 

"Razdievaysiaf' * 

The order stupefied me. I remained motionless. 

Some soldiers came up, pushed me forward and re- 
peated the order several times. I awoke at last and began 
to undress. 

The old General's name was read off the list next. 
Then a number of other officers were called out. Each 

♦ Undress, 


of them was ordered to cast off his uniform and remain 
in his undergarments. 

TEe Bolsheviks needed all the uniforms they could get, 
and this was such an inexpensive way of obtaining them I 

Tears streamed down my cheeks. The old General 
was near me. 

"Don't cry!" he urged me. "We will die together." 

Not all the prisoners were in our group. Those re- 
maining kissed me farewell. The parting among the men 
was alone sufficient to pierce one's heart. 

"Well, we will follow you in an hour or two," those 
who were left behind said bravely. 

After I took my boots off, I removed the icon from my 
neck and fell before it on my knees. 

"Why should I die such a death?" I cried. "For three 
years I have suffered for my country. Is this shameful 
end to be my reward? Have mercy. Holy Mother 1 If 
not for the sake of humble Maria, then for the sake of 
my destitute old mother and my aged father! Have 

Here I collapsed completely and became hysterical. 

After a few moments an officer approached me, put his 
hand on my shoulder, and said : 

"You are a Russian officer. We are dying for a right- 
eous cause. Be strong and die as it behooves an officer 
to die!" 

I made a superhuman effort to control myself. The 
tears stopped. I arose and announced to the guards: 

"I am ready." 

We were led out from the car, all of us in our under- 
garments. A few hundred feet away was the field of 
slaughter. There were hundreds upon hundreds of hu- 
man bodies heaped there. As we approached the place, 
the figure of Pugatchov, marching about with a trium- 
phant face, came into sight. He was in charge of the 


firing squad, composed of about one hundred men, some 
of whom were sailors, others soldiers, and others dressed 
as Red Guards. 

We were surrounded and taken toward a slight eleva- 
tion of ground, and placed in a line with our backs toward 
the hill. There were corpses behind us, in front of us, 
to our left, to our right, at our very feet. There were 
at least a thousand of them. The scene was a horror of 
horrors. The poisonous odors were choking us. The 
executioners did not seem to mind it so much. They were 
used to them. 

I was placed at the extreme right of the line. Neict to 
me was the old General. There were twenty of us alto- 

"We are waiting for the committee," Pugatchov ex- 
plained the delay in the proceedings. 

"What a pleasure r* he rubbed his hands, laughing. 
"We have a woman to-day." 

"Ah, yes," he added, turning to us all, "you can write 
letters home and ask that your bodies be sent there for 
burial, if you wish. Or you can ask for other favors." 

The suspense of waiting was as cruel as anything else 
about the place. Every officer's face wore an expression 
of implacable hatred for that brute of a man, Pugatchov. 
Never have I seen a more bloodthirsty pervert. I did not 
think that such a man was to be found in Russia. 

The waiting wore Yne out soon and I fell again on my 
knees, praying to the little icon, and crying to Heaven : 

"God, when have I sinned to earn such a death? Why 
should I die like a dog, without burial, without a priest, 
with no funeral ? And who will take care of my mother ? 
She will expire when she learns of my end." 

The Bolshevik soldiers broke out laughing. My plead- 
ing touched their sense of humor. They joked and made 


"Don*t cry, my child," the General bent over me, pat- 
ting me. "They are savages. Their hearts are of stone. 
They would not even let us receive the last sacrament. 
Let us die like heroes, nevertheless." 

His words gave me strength. I got up, straightened 
myself out and said : 

"All right, I will die as a hero." 

Then, for about ten minutes I gazed at the faces of our 
executioners, scrutinizing their features. It was hard to 
distinguish in them sign3 of humanity. They were Rus- 
sian soldiers turned inhuman. The lines in their faces 
were those of brutal apes. 

"My God! What hast Thou done to Thy children?" 
I prayed. 

In a long file the numerous events of my life passed 
before me. My childhood, those years of hard labor in 
the little grocery store of Nastasia Leontievna ; the affair 
with Lazov; my marriage to Botchkarev; Yasha; the 
three years of war; they all passed through my imagina- 
tion, some incidents strangely gripping my interest for a 
moment or two, others flitting by hastily. Somehow that 
episode of my early life, when I quarreled with the litde 
boy placed in my charge and the undeserved spanking I 
got from his mother stood out very prominently in my 
mind. It was my first act of self-assertion. I rebelled 
and escaped. . . . Then there was that jump into the 
Ob. It almost seemed that it was not I who sought relief 
in its cold, deep waters from the ugly Afanasi. But I 
wished that I had been drowned then, rather than die 
such a death. . • • 



THE investigation committee finally appeared in the 
distance. Petrukhin was leading them. There were 
twelve members present, the two absentees apparently 
having joined the other ten. 

**You see how kind we are," some of the soldiers said. 
"We are having the committee present at your execu- 


None of us answered. 

"We were all to see Sablin, the Commander in Chief," 
Petrukhin announced as soon as he approached near 
enough to Pugatchov. "He said that Botchkareva would 
have to be shot, but not necessarily now and with this 

A ray of hope was lit in my soul. 

"Nothing of the sort!" Pugatchov bawled angrily. 

"What is the matter here? Why thi%4)ostponement ? 
The list is already made up." 

The soldiers supported Pugatchov. 

"Shoot her I Finish her now! What's the use of 
bothering with her again!" cried the men. 

But just as Pugatchov sensed that Petrukhin had ob- 
tained the delay hoping to save me, so the latter realized 
that words would not be sufficient to carry his argument. 
He had provided himself with a note from Sablin. 

"Here is an order from the Conmiander in Chief," 
Petrukhin declared, pulling out a paper. "It says that 
Botchkareva shall be taken to my compartment in the 
railway carnage and kept there under guard" 



Pugatchov jumped up as If bitten. But the committee 
here rallied to the support of Petrukhin, arguing that or- 
ders were orders, and that I would be executed later. 

Not the least interested spectator of the heated discus- 
sion was myself. The officers followed the argument 
breathlessly, too. The soldiers grumbled. The forces 
of life and death struggled within me. Now the first 
would triumph, now the second, depending on the turn 
of the quarrel. 

"Nothing doing!" shouted Pugatchov, thrusting aside 
the order of the Commander in Chief. "It's too late for 
orders like that! We will shoot her! Enough words!" 

At this moment I became aware of one of the two 
newly arrived committeemen staring at me intently. He 
took a couple of steps toward me, bent his head on the 
side and nailed his eyes on me. There was something 
about that look that electrified me: As the man, who was 
a common soldier, craned his neck forward and stepped 
out of the group, a strange silence gripped everybody, so 
affected were all by the painful expression on his face. 

"A-r-e y-o-u Y-a-s-h-k-a ?" he sang out slowly. 

"How do you know me?" I asked quickly, almost over- 
powered by a iyemonition of salvation. 

"Don't you remember how you saved my life in that 
March offensive, when I was wounded in the leg and you 
dragged me out of the mud under fire? My name is 
Peter. I would have perished there, in the water, and 
many others like me, if not for you. Why do they want 
to shoot you now?" 

"Because I am an officer," I replied. 

"What conversations are you holding here?" Pu- 
gatchov thundered. '*She will have to be shot, and no 
arguments !" 

"And I won't allow her to be shot I" my God-appointed 
savior answered back firmly, and walked up to me, seized 


my arm, pulled me out of my place, occupying it himself. 

"You will shoot me first!*' he exclaimed. "She saved 
my life. She saved many of our lives. The entire Fifth 
Corps knows Yashka. She is a common peasant like my- 
self » and understands no.politics7 If you shoot her, you 
will ha ve. to. shoQt me first 1" 

This tirade had a remarkably wholesome effect on me. 
It also struck home in the hearts of many in the crowd. 

Petrukhin went up, took a place beside Peter and me, 
and declared: 

"You will shoot me, too, before you execute an inno- 
cent, sick woman!" 

The soldiers were now divided. Some shouted, "Let's 
shoot her and make an end of this squabble ! What's the 
use of arguments?" 

Others were more human. "She is not of the bour- 
geoisie, but a common peasant like ourselves," they ar- 
gued. "And she does not understand politics. Perhaps 
she really was going to seek a cure. She was not cap- 
tured, but came to us herself, we must not forget." 

For some time the place turned into a meeting-ground. 
It was a weird situation for a debate. There were the 
hundreds of bodies scattered around us. There were the 
twenty of us in our under-garments awaiting death. Of 
the twenty only I had a chance for life. The remaining 
nineteen stoically kept themselves on their feet. No hope 
heaved their breasts. No miracle could save them. And 
amidst all this a hundred Russian soldiers, a quarter of 
an hour before all savages, now half of them with a spark 
of humanity in their veins, were deliberating! 

The committee finally found their wits and took charge 
of the situation. Turning to Pugatchov, they declared : 

"Now, we have an order here from the Commander in 
Chief, and it shall be obeyed. We will take her away." 

They closed about me and I was marched out of the 


line and off the field. Pugatchov was in a white rage, 
raving like a madman, grinding his teeth. As we walked 
away, his inhuman voice roared : 

"Fire at the knees 1" 

A volley rang out. Immediately cries and groans filled 
the air. Turning my head about, I saw the savages rush 
the heap of victims with their bayonets, digging them deep 
into the bodies of my companions of a few minutes pre- 
vious, and crushing the last signs of life out of them with 
their heels. 

It was frightful, indescribably frightful. The moans 
were penetrating, blood-curdling. I staggered, fell to the 
ground my full length, and swooned. 

For four hours I remained unconscious. When I came 
to, I was in a compartment of a railway coach. Petrukhin 
sat near me, holding my hands, and weeping. 

As I thought of the circumstances that led to my 
fainting, the figure of Pugatchov swam up before my eyes, 
and I took an oath there and then to kill him at the first 
opportunity, if I escaped from the Bolshevik trap. 

Petrukhin then told me that Peter had aroused the in- 
vestigation committee to such a state of compassion for 
me that the members agreed to go with him to Sablin, and 
petition the Commander in Chief to send me to Moscow 
for trial by a military tribunal. About fifty soldiers were 
also won over to my side by Peter's accounts of Yashka's 
work in the trenches and No Man's Land, and my repu- 
tation among all men. Petrukhin had remained at my 
bedside till I recovered consciousness, but he now desired 
to join the deputation. I gratefully thanked him for his 
humane attitude toward me and his desperate efforts to 
save my life. 

Before he left, word reached him that Pugatchov had 
incited some of the men against me, threatening to kidnap 
me from my friends and lynch me. Petrukhin placed 


five of his loyal friends at my compartment, with orders 
not to surrender me at any cost. 

I prayed to God for Petrukhin, and hearing my prayer, 
he said : 

"Now, I, too, believe in God. The appearance of this 
man, Peter, was truly miraculous. In spite of all my 
efforts, you would have been executed but for him." 

"And how are my chances of escaping death now?" I 

"They are still very small," he answered. "Your rec- 
ord is against you. You do not deny being a friend of 
Kornilov's. Your strict discipline in the Battalion and 
your fighting the Germans at a time when the whole front 
was fraternizing, are known here. Besides, the death pen- 
alty has become so customary here that it would be very 
unusual for one to escape it. Only the other day a physi- 
cian and his wife, on their way to Kislovodsk to the 
springs, somehow landed in Zverevo. They were ar- 
rested, attached to a party ready for shooting, and with- 
out any investigation were executed. Afterwards there 
were found in their clothes papers from their local Soviet, 
certifying that they were actually ill, the physician suf- 
fering from a cancer, and requesting that they be passed 
to Kislovodsk." 

Petrukhin kissed my hand, and left, warning me : 

"Wait here till I return. Nobody will harm you in 
my absence." 

He locked the door behind him. I took out the little 
bottle of holy water, given to me by my youngest siSter, 
Nadia, and drank it. On my knees before the little icon, 
I prayed long and devoutly to God, Jesus, and the Holy 
Mother. My ears caught a noise outside the car : it came 
from several menacing soldiers who wanted to get in and 
kill me on the spot. I prayed with greater fervor than 
before, begging for my life in the name of my mother, my 


father and my little sister. My heart was heavy with sor- 
row and despair. 

As I was hugging the little icon, tears streaming from 
my eyeSi I suddenly heard a yoice^ a very tender voice, 
say to me : 

*Tour life wiU he saved.*' 

I was alone in the compartment. I realize that it is an 
audacious statement to make. I do not seek to make 
any one believe it. One may accept it or not. But I am 
satisfied that I did hear the voice of a divine messenger. 
It was soothing, elevating. Suddenly I felt happy and 
calm. I thanked the Almighty for his boundless kindness 
and vowed to have a public prayer offered at the Moscow 
Cathedral of Christ the Savior at the first opportunity, in 
commemoration of His miraculous message to me. 

Then I fell asleep, and rested calmly till the arrival of, 
Petrukhin. His face was wreathed in smiles, he clasped 
my hand joyously, saying: 

*'Thank God ! Thank God I You are at least saved 
from the mob. Sablin ordered you sent to Moscow. The 
necessary papers are being prepared now." 

At this point Peter came in, followed by some members 
of the investigation committee. All were happy. It was 
such a wonderful moment. How an act of humanity does 
transform men's countenances ! Peter and his comrades 
congratuated me, and I was too overcome to express all 
the gratefulness that I felt toward these men. 

Petrukhin then narrated how he had disposed of the 
incited soldiers, who clamored for my life. He told them 
that I was being led away to Moscow in the hope that I 
would deliver there several counter-revolutionary gen- 
erals, associated with Kornilov. 

"Will she be shot afterwards?" they inquired. 

"Sure," Petrukhin declared. The l)mchers went away 


I was curious to know what would be done to me in 
Moscow. Petrukhin, in reply to my inquiries, said that 
among the papers relating to my case, which my convoys 
would take to Moscow, the chief document was the proto- 
col. That protocol had been drawn up by himself, in the 
capacity of chairman of the investigation committee. He 
described in it how I had lost my way while going to 
Kislovodsk, getting stranded at Zverevo and how I had 
reported of my own free will to the authorities, adding 
that I had with me a ticket to Kislovodsk, an invitation 
from Princess Tatuyeva to come to the Caucasus, and a 
statement from a physician certifying to my ill health. 
The latter was, of course, an invention. Petrukhin 
sent along the ticket and the letter from Tiflis, adding 
that he had misplaced the physician's certificate and would 
send it on later. 

"It is unlikely," he said to me, "that you would be pun- 
ished with death on the strength of such evidence. I 
should expect your release, sooner or later. But in any 
event, here is a poison pill. I prepared it for you orig- 
inally to take in case the mob got the upper hand, so that 
you could escape torture at the hands of these savages. 
I hope you will not have to resort to it in Moscow." 

I still carry with me that pill of poison wherever I 
go. . . . 

Petrukhin gave me forty rubles for expenses, as I was 
penniless. I thanked him and asked him to write a let- 
ter to my people, telling them of my whereabouts. We 
then took leave of one another. Petrukhin and Peter 
exchanged kisses with me, and I again and again reiterated 
how much I owed to them, swearing that in any future 
emergency, whatever happened, I would always be ready 
to do everything within my power for them. We all real- 
ized that many changes were still in store for Russia, till 
she settled down to peaceful pursuits. 


Accompanied by my friends and surrounded by four 
armed guards, my convoy, I was led to an empty railway 
coach, attached to an engine. On this train, consisting 
of cattle-cars and my coach, I was taken to Nikitino. 
There I was brought before the Commandant, with a 
request to provide accommodations for the party on a 
regular train. It was the same Commandant who had 
helped me so generously to get to Zverevo on the muni- 
tion train. Of course, he did not recognize the Sister 
of Mercy in Botchkareva. 

On the platform I had another striking encounter. The 
word that Botchkareva had been seized and was being 
taken to Moscow had gone around the station and a num- 
ber of Red Guards and soldiers gathered about me, show- 
ering insults, curses and threats. Among these, in the 
foremost rank, was that ugly creature of a man who had 
been in charge of the train on which I rode to Zverevo 
and who had proposed marriage to me I 

The beast did not recognize me now. He scoffed 
straight into my face, repeated my name syllable by sylla- 
ble, taking a peculiar joy in distorting it and railing gen- 
erally at my appearance and reputation. 

"The slut ! We have got her, the harlot I" he raved. 
"Only I can't understand why they didn't shoot her there. 
Why bother with such a one 1" 

I could not help laughing. I laughed long, without re- 
straint. It was so amusing. I almost had a desire to dis- 
close to him how I had duped him. He still has no idea 
that Alexandra Smirnova, whose fictitious address at Kis- 
lovodsk he, in all probability, cherishes yet, was Maria 
Botchkareva t 

For three days I traveled with my convoy from Niki- 
tino to Moscow. I was treated with consideration, but 
always as a prisoner. The guards would get food for me 
and themselves at the stations on the way. Upon our 


arrival at Moscow I was taken in ah automobile to the 
Soldiers' Section of the Soviet, housed in what was for- 
merly the Governor's mansion. My guards delivered me 
to a civilian, with all the documents of the case, and left. 

"What, coming from Kornilov?" the official asked me 

"No, I was going to take the cure at Kislovodsk," I 

"Ah, yes, we know those cures I What about the 
epaulets? Why did you take them off?" 

"Because I am a plain peasant woman. I have de- 
fended my country bravely for three years. I am not 

"Well, we will see about that later," he interrupted 
and ordered me led away to prison. 

I was locked up in a small cell, in which there were 
already about twenty prisoners, officers and civilians, all 
arrested by agents who had overheard them talk against 
the Bolshevik regime ! A fine reincarnation of the worst 
methods of Tsarism. 

The cell was in a frightful condition. There was no 
lavatory in it, and the inmates were not permitted to leave 
the room! The stench was indescribable. The men 
smoked incessantly. The prisoners were not even allowed 
to take the short, daily promenade outside, which was 
granted by the old regime. 

Apparently in order to make me confess, I was sub- 
jected to a new form of torture, never practised by the 
Tsar's jailers. I was denied food I For three days I did 
not receive even the niggardly ration given to the other 
prisoners. My companions were very nice to me, but the 
portions that they received were barely enough to sustain 
life in their own bodies. So for three days and three 
nights I lay on the bunk, in a heap under a cover, on the 

3o8 YASHKA ^ 

point of suffocation, starved, feverish, and thirsty, as 
not even water was allowed me. 

During these days the Commandant of the prison, a 
sailor, came in several times daily to torment me with his 

"What are you going to do to me?" I asked. 

"What? You will be shotl" was his answer. 


"Ha, ha. Because you are a friend of Komilov's." 

Those were the hours when I hugged the pill given me 
by Petrukhin, in anticipation of a momentary order to 
face a firing squad. 

Soon one of the arrested officers, who had been heard 
cursing Bolshevism while drunk, was set free. Before 
going some of his fellows intrusted him with messages 
to their relatives. I thought of the Vasilievs, who so 
kindly took me from the hospital to their home in the 
fall of 19 1 6, and begged the officer to visit them and 
tell of my plight. He promised to do so and carried out 
the errand. I sent them a message that I expected to be 
executed and asked their help. 

When Daria Maximovna got the message she was 
shocked and immediately set out to get permission to see 
me. But when she called at the Soldiers' Section for a 
pass to see Botchkareva, she was taken for a friend of 
Kornilov's and would have been badly mauled but for 
the fact that her son Stepan, the very fellow who belonged 
to my Company and who had brought about the friend- 
ship between his mother and me, was now one of the 
Bolshevik chiefs. Daria Maximovna raised the cry that 
she was the mother of Stepan Vasiliev, of such and such a 
department, and he was brought to identify her. 

This saved her from severe punishment. She then ap- 
pealed to her son to intervene in my behalf, but he re- 
fused, claiming that he could not come to the aid of an 


open friend of Kornilov. He, however, obtained a pass 
to my cell for his mother. Later he responded to her 
entreaties and did say a few good words for me, telling 
the proper authorities that I was a simple peasant woman 
with no understanding of politics. 

On the fourth day of my imprisonment I received a 
quarter of a pound of bread, some tea and two cubes of 
sugar. The bread was too black for description, consist- 
ing partly of straw. I could not even touch it and had to 
satisfy myself with three cups of tea. Later in the day a 
sailor came in, addressing me as comrade, and informed 
me that one Vasilieva was waiting to see me. I was weak, 
so weak that I could not move a few feet without assis- 
tance. As soon as I got up and made a step, I sank back 
on the bunk, helpless. 

"Are you sick?" the sailor asked. 

"Yes;" I murmured. 

He took me by the arm and led me to a chair in the 
office. I was all in perspiration after the little walk and 
was unable to see anything from dizziness. When Daria 
Maximovna saw me she fell on my neck and wept. Turn- 
ing to the officials, she cried out bitterly: 

"How could you ever have such a woman arrested and 
subjected to torture? She was so kind to the soldiers, 
she suffered so much for your own brothers !" 

She then opened a package, took out some bread and 
butter, and handed them to me, saying: 

"Manka, here is a quarter of a pound of bread. All 
we got to-day was three-eighths of a pound. And thi^ is 
a quarter of a pound of butter, our entire ration." 

I was immensely grateful to this dear woman and her 
children, who had sacrificed their own portions for me. 
The bread was good. The difficulty was, according to 
Daria Maximovna, to get enough for all mouths. Even 
this meager ration was not always obtainable. 


I then told her my troubles and the punishment I faced, 
begging her to write to my mother in case of my execu- 

Two weeks I spent in that abominable cell until I was 
taken before, the tribunal. I was marched along the 
Tverskaya, Moscow's chief thoroughfare, and was recog- 
nized by the crowds. The tribunal was quartered in 
the Kremlin. For a couple of hours I waited there, at 
the end of which time I was surprised to see Stepan Va- 
siliev come in and approach me. 

"Marusia, how did you ever get into this?^' he asked 
me, shaking my hand and inviting me to sit down. 

I told him the story of my going to Kislovodsk to take 
the cure. 

**But how did you ever get to Zverevo?" he inquired. 

"I had a ticket to Kislovodsk. I did not know that 
Zverevo was such a forbidden place. Once they told mc 
a ticket, I thought it all right to follow the regular route," 
I answered heatedly. 

"I spent a couple of hours yesterday examining your 
case and the documents pertaining to it, but could not 
quite understand how you got to Zverevo," Stepan said. 
"Perhaps you really did go to see Kornilov?" 

"I do not deny my friendship for Komilov," I de- 
clared, glad at heart that Stepan turned up in such a posi- 
tion of authority. "But you know that I am almost illit- 
erate and understand no politics and do not mix with any 
party. I fought in the trenches for Russia and it is 
Mother-Russia alone that interests me. All Russians are 
my brothers." 

Stepan answered that he knew of my ignorance of polit- 
ical matters. He then went out to report to the tribunal, 
and soon afterwards I was called in. There were six 
men, all common soldiers, seated at a long table covered 
with a green cloth, in the middle of a large ball, richly 


finished. I was asked to sit down and tell my story, and 
how I ever got into Zverevo. The six judges were all 
young men, not one of them over thirty. 

I started to rise from the chair to tell my yarn, but 
was very courteously asked to remain seated. I then 
told of my wound in the back, of the operation that I still 
needed for the extraction of a piece of shell, and of my 
consulting a Petrograd physician who advised me to go 
to the springs in Kislovodsk. I said that I had heard of 
fighting between Kornilov and the Bolsheviki, at No- 
votcherkask, but had no idea what a civil war was like and 
never thought of a front in such a struggle. I, therefore, 
continued to Nikitino, where the Commandant had sent 
me on to Zverevo. Of course, I failed to mention the 
fact that the Commandant had sent on to Zverevo not 
Botchk^reva but Smirnova, a Sister of Mercy. I con- 
cluded with the statement that as soon as I reached 
Zverevo I realized that I was in a bad situation, and 
surrendered to the local authorities. 

I was informed that it would take a week for my case to 
be cleared up and a decision reached. Instead of sending 
me to the Butirka, the prison in which I had been the last 
two weeks, I was taken to the military guardhouse, oppo- 
site the Soldiers' Section. Drunken sailors and Red 
Guards were kept there as a rule. The room in which 
I was confined was narrow and long, the windows were 
large but closely grated. There were about ten prisoners 
in it. 

"Ah, look who's here 1 Botchkareva 1" 

With these words I was met as soon as I crossed the 
threshold. They quickly turned into phrases of abuse 
and ridicule. I was quiet, and sought seclusion and rest 
in a comer, but in vain. The inmates were Bolsheviks 
of the lowest sort, degenerates and former criminals. I 
was the object of their constant ill-treatment, so that day 

312 yASHKA 

and night torturing me became their diversion. If I tried 
to sleep, I soon found some one near me. When I ate 
or drank, the beasts were around me, showering insults 
and playing dirty tricks. Weeping did not touch them. 
For nights and nights I was forced to stay awake, some- 
times throwing myself upon an intruder with my teeth in 
an effort to drive him away. I prayed the warden for a 
solitary cell. 

"Let it be a cold, dingy hole. Give me no food. But 
take me away from these drunken brutes 1" I pleaded. 

"We will take you away soon — to shoot youl" the war- 
den would joke in reply, to the uproarious merriment of 
my tormentors. 

The promised week elapsed and still there was no deci- 
sion in my case. Days — ^long, torturous, agonizing days 
— ^passed slowly by. Above all, the inability to sleep 
was so excruciating that it drove me to a state actually 
bordering on insanity. Two and a half weeks I lived in 
that inferno, seventeen days without a single full night's 
sleep ! 

Then one morning the warden, who had delighted 
daily in telling me stories of what would be done to me, 
very vivid stories of frightfulness, came in with some pa- 
pers in his hand. 

"Botchkareva I" he called me out. "You are free." 
And he opened the door before me. 

I was so surprised that I thought at first that this was 
another trick to torture me. 

"Free?" I asked. "Why? I had grown to believe the 
warden's tales of what awaited me, and I could not 
imagine him as the carrier of such tidings. 

"Am I free for good?" I asked. 

"Yes," was the answer. "You will go with a guard to 
the Soldiers' Section, where you will get the necessary 


I bade farewell, with a sigh of relief, to the chamber 
of horrors, and went immediately to get the document 
from the tribunal, which stated that I had been arrested 
but found innocent of the charge and, being a sick woman, 
was to be allowed full freedom of movement in the coun- 
try. With this passport in my pocket I was turned loose 
to go. 



THE Vasilievs were the only people I could go to in 
Moscow. They lived on the outskirts of the city. 
I made an attempt to walk to their house, but was too 
weak to proceed more than two blocks. There was a 
cabman at the curb, but he wanted twenty-five rubles to 
take me to my friends. I tried to bargain, oflfering fif- 
teen, and he would not hear of it. As I had no money, I 
finally hired the cab in the hope that Daria Maximovna 
would pay for it. The alternative was to remain on the 

Madame Vasilieva received me as if I were her own 
daughter. She was overwhelmed with joy at my release. 
I was too emaciated and worn out to react fully to my 
miraculous deliverance from the clutches of torture and 
death. I was served some light food, and Daria Maxi- 
movna went about preparing a bath for me. I had not 
changed my undergarments for several weeks, and my 
body was blacker than it ever had been during my life in 
the trenches. My skin was in a terrible condition from 
vermin. The bath was a greater deliverance at the mo- 
ment than my release itself. And the long hours of sleep 
following it were even more welcome. I doubt if sleep 
ever tasted sweeter to me. 

One could not remain long as a guest In Moscow in 
those early days of March, 191 8. Stepan lived away 
from his home, as his parents differed sharply with him 
on the political situation. The family consisted of Daria 



Maximovna, her husband and the younger son. The 
daughter, Tonetchka, was married and lived apart. The 
three Vasilievs received daily a pound and one-eighth_of 
bread 1 The weekly meat ration was a pound and a half. 
I therefore promptly realized what a burden I was 
bound to be. But I could not make up my mind where to 
go and what to do. The Vasilievs offered to buy me a 
ticket home, but the document I had from the Soldiers' 
Section was in itself a ticket. 

I recalled that some of my maimed girls had been sent 
to Moscow, to be quartered in the House of Invalids, and 
thought of looking them up. I took a walk to the city. 
When I approached the block in which the Home for 
Invalids was situated, I saw several crowds, largely 
composed of soldiers, in the street, holding meetings of 
indignation. As I reached the place I found a number of 
maimed soldiers, some of them without legs or arms, 
scattered about the front grounds. 

On inquiry I learned that the Bolshevist authorities had 
turned the hundreds of crippled inmates into the street. 
Many of them, including my girls, had already disap- 
peared, some undoubtedly spreading out to beg, others 
gathered up by charitable people and societies. But still 
a goodly number remained, crying, cursing Lenine and 
Trotzky, and asking passers-by for food and shelter. It 
was a pathetic sight. The cruelty of the order made one's 
blood boil. It was an order apparently promulgated just 
for the sake of cruelty. The excuse that the Government 
needed the building certainly did not justify the wanton 

There were about two hundred soldiers in the crowd, 
and I stopped to listen to their conversation. All of them 
had been attracted to the place by the complaints of the 
evicted invalids. Their talk came as a revelation to me. 
They were in a mutinous state, aroused against Lenine 


and Trotzky's regime. For several hours I lingered about 
the various groups, sometimes participating in the dis- 

"See what you have brought on by your own acts. You 
have atrociously beaten and killed your officers. You 
have abandoned God and destroyed the Church. Now, 
this is the result of your deeds." In some such man- 
ner I addressed the men, and they answered something 
like this : 

"We believed that by overthrowing our officers and the 
wealthy class, we would have plenty of bread and land. 
But now the factories are demolished and there is no 
work. We are terrorized by the Red Guard, which is 
composed mostly of dnmkards and criminals. If there 
are any honest soldiers in it, it is because hunger and pov- 
erty force them to enlist in order to escape starvation. 
If we demand justice and a square deal, we are shot down 
by the Red hangmen. And all the while the Germans 
are advancing into Russia, and nobody is sent to fight 
them, our real enemies." 

At these words I crossed myself, thanking the Almighty 
for the deep change He had wrought in the minds of the 

The crowd became so demonstrative that the authori- 
ties were notified and a Red Guard detachment was sent 
to suppress it. It arrived suddenly and by firing a volley 
into the air warned us to disperse. The gathering 
split up and vanished from the street. A group of about 
ten soldiers, including myself, rushed into a neighboring 
court-yard and continued the conversation there behind 
the gates. 

"See, what you get nowl If you were armed, they 
would not dare to treat you like that. They made you 
surrender your arms and now oppress you worse than 


the Tsar. Who ever heard of a thousand invalids thrown 
out into the street under the old regime?" I asked. 

"Yes, we have been sold out. It is clear now. The 
Germans are taking away all our bread, occupying our 
land, destroying our country, demanding all our capital 
and possessions. We have been sold out," nodded sev- 
eral men. 

"Ah, so you are beginning to see the light 1" 

"Yes, we are," declared one fellow. "A month ago 
I wouldn't have talked to you. I was then the chairman 
of a local Soviet. But I see what it all means now. We 
are being arrested, searched, robbed, terrorized by the 
Red Guard mercenaries. I wQuld, myself, shoot Lenine 
and Trotzky for this outrageous treatment of the invalids. 
A month ago I was a fool, but I see now that I was all 
wrong in my ideas about you and other opponents of the 
Bolsheviki. You are not an enemy of the people, but a 

Accompanied by a couple of soldiers, I walked away. 
One of them told me he had seen a girl of mine, thrown 
out of the Home, begin begging. My heart pained at the 
thought, but I was absolutely without means. What could 
I have done for her? We reached the Cathedral of 
Christ the Savior and I remembered the vow I had made 
to have a public mass served in commemoration of my 
miraculous escape from death. 

I took leave of my companions and entered the church. 
There were about five or six hundred people there. On 
that very day, I believe, the order was promulgated sep- 
arating the Church from the State. All the devout mem- 
bers of the Cathedral went to the Communion service 
that afternoon. 

I went to see the deacon in the vestry and told him of 
the miracle that was vouchsafed me and the vow I had 
made. I did not fail to mention the fact that I was penni- 


less and could not pay for the service. At the conclusion 
of the Communion, the priest announced: 

"There has just come here a Christian woman who had 
suffered greatly for the country and whose name is known 
throughout the land. A miracle saved her in a desperate 
moment. God listened to her prayers and sent her an 
old friend, whose life she had once saved, on the eve of 
her execution. The execution was postponed. She then 
prayed to God again, and a divine voice informed her 
that her life would be spared. She vowed to offer public 
prayers in this Cathedral in the event of her release. The 
Lord mercifully granted her freedom, and she is now 
here to fulfil the vow." 

The priest then asked the deacon to bring me up to the 
altar. When I was led there, a murmur went throu^ 
the assembly: 

"Lord ! It's Botchkareva 1" 

Candles were lit and for fifteen minutes prayers of 
praise to the Lord were read, glorifying His name. 

I returned to the Vasilievs by trolley. On the car there 
were many soldiers, and again their conversation cheered 
me up. 

"A fine end we have come to 1 The Germans are mov- 
ing nearer and nearer, and here they are shooting and ar- 
resting the people 1" the men said to one another. "Why 
don't they send the Red Guard to resist the enemy? We 
are being sold to the Germans." 

This was my second encounter with sober-thinking sol- 
diers in one day. I arrived at Daria Maximovna's in 
hi^ spirits. The awakening of the Russian soldier had 
begun I 

I had left my medals and crosses in Petrograd before 
starting out on the fateful errand. Borrowing some 
money from Madame Vasilieva, I went for them to Petro- 
grad. The railway carriage in which I traveled was 


packed with about a hundred and fifty soldiers. But they 
were no longer the cut-throats, the incensed and revenge- 
ful ruffians of two months ago. They did not threaten. 
They did not brag. The kindness of their real souls had 
again asserted itself. They even made a place for me, 
inviting me to sit down. 

"Please, Madame Botchkareva," they said, "take this 

"Thank you, comrades," I answered. 

"No, don't call us comrades any more. It's disgrace- 
ful now. The comrades are at present fleeing from the 
front, when the Germans threaten Moscow," some of 
them remarked. 

One felt among friends. This comradeship was what 
endeared the Russian soldier to my heart. Not the com- 
radeship of the agitators, not the comradeship so loudly 
proclaimed in the Bolshevik manifestoes and proclama- 
tions, but the true comradeship that made the three years 
in the trenches the happiest of my life. That old spirit 
again filled the air. It was almost too good to be real. 
After the nightmare of revolution and terror, it felt like 
a dream. The soldiers were actually cursing Bolshevism, 
denouncing Lenine and Trotzky I 

"How does it happen that you all talk so sanely?" I 

"Because the Germans are moving on Moscow, and 
Lenine and Trotzky don't even snap their fingers," came 
in answer. "A soldier has escaped from Kiev and just 
telegraphed that the Germans are seizing Russians and 
sending them to Germany to help fight the Allies. Lenine 
and Trotzky told us that the Allies were our enemies. We 
now see that they are our friends." 

Another soldier, who had been home on leave, told of 
an armed Red Guard detachment that descended on his 
village one fair day and robbed the peasants of all the 


bread they had, the product of their sweat and blood, 
exposing them to starvation. 

"The people are hungry, that's why they join the Red 
Guard," one of the men remarked "At least then they 
get food and arms with which to plunder. It is getting so 
that one is not safe unless he belongs ta the Red Guard." 

"But why don't you do something?** I addressed myself 
to them. "Everjrwhere I see the people are aroused, but 
they do nothing to overthrow the yoke." 

"We have demanded more than once the resignation of 
Lenine and Trotzky. There were large majorities 
against them at several elections. But they lean on the 
Red Guard and keep themselves in power in spite of the 
will of the people. The peasants are almost to a man 
against them." 

"The more reason why you should act," I said. "Some* 
thing ought to be donel" 

"What? Tell us whatl" several wanted to know. 

"Even to get together, for instance, and reestablish 
the front !" I suggested. 

"We would, but we have nobody we can trust to lead 
us. All our good people are fighting among themselves, 
they argued. "Besides, we would need arms and food. 

"You just said that the Allies were our friends. Sup- 
pose we asked them to send us arms and food and help 
us to reorganize the front, would you be willing to fight 
the Germans again?" I inquired. 

"Yes," answered some, "we would.** 

"No,** replied others, "what if the Allies got into 
Russia and wanted to take advantage of us, Vk^ the 
Germans ?'* 

"Well, you must elect your own leader to cooperate 
with the Allies only on condition that we fight till we de- 
feat the enemy and finish the war," I proposed. 

"But whom could we choose as our leader?'* the men 



persisted. "All our chiefs are divided. Some are re- 
puted to be monarchists. Others are said to be exploiters 
of the poor laboring people. Still others are declared to 
be German agents. Where could we find a man that 
would not belong to one of these or other parties?" 

"What if I, for instance, took charge, and became your 
leader?" I made bold to ask. "Would you follow me?*' 

"Yes, yes 1" they cried. "We could trust you. You are 
a peasant yourself. But what could you do?" 

"What could I do? You know that these scoundrels 
are destroying Russia. The Germans are grasping every- 
thing they can lay hold on. I would try to restore the 

"But how?" they quizzed. 

Here the idea of going to America originated in my 
mind. We had all heard that America was now one of 
the Allies. 

"What if I should go to America to ask there for 
help?" I ventured. 

My companions all burst out laughing. America is so 
remote and so unreal to the Russian peasant. It did not 
sound like a practical proppsition to the soldiers. But 
they raised only one objection. 

"How would you ever get there? The Bolsheviks and 
Red Guards will never let you out of the country," they 

"But if I did get there and to the other Allies," I in-: 
sisted, "and came back with an army and equipment, 
would you join me then, and would you have all your 
friends come with you?" 

"Yes, we would 1 Yes 1 We know that you could not 
be bought. You are one of usl" they shouted. 

"In that event, I will go to America 1" I announced 
resolutely, there and then making up my mind to go. 
The soldiers wouldn't believe me. When we reached 


Petrograd and I parted from them affectionately, with 
their blessings following me, I did not forget to warn 
them to remember their pledge upon hearing of my ar- 
rival from foreign lands with troops. 

I spent only several hours in Petrograd and did not go 
to sec General X. I got my war decorations from the * 
woman friend with whom I had left them, and saw only 
a few of my acquaintances. I told all of them of the 
great change in the soldiers' state of mind, and they re- 

"Thank Godl'* they exclaimed. "If the soldiers are 
waking up, then Russia will yet be saved." 

After dinner I took a train back to Moscow. As usual, 
soldiers formed the larger part of the passengers. I lis- 
tened to their discussions attentively, although this time I 
took no part in them, as there were a few Bolsheviks 
among the men, and I did not wish to divulge my plans. 
I heard many curse Lenine and Trotzky, and all ex- 
pressed their willingness to go to fight the Germans. One 
fellow asked: 

"How could you fight them, without leaders and organ- 

"Ah, that's the trouble," answered several at once. 
"We have no leaders. If some appeared and only called 
on us, we would make short work of the Bolsheviks and 
drive the Germans out of Russia." 

I said nothing, but remembered the words well. The 
people were groping for light. It strengthened my de- 
termination to go to the Allied countries in search of 
help for Russia. But it was necessary to evolve some 
plan whereby I could get out of the country. A happy 
thought then occurred to me : I would make my destina- 
tion the home of my valued friend, Mrs. Emmeline Pank- 
hurst, London. 

Upon my arrival at Moscow, I announced to the Va- 


silievs my decision to go to London. It was explained 
to me that the only way out of Russia lay through Vladi- 
vostok, and that I would have to cross America before 
reaching England. That suited me exactly. 

Before taking the necessary steps for the departure I 
resolved to look up my girls and visited a clinic in which 
my poor little soldiers were said to be located. When I 
arrived at the address I found the building closed and was 
referred to a certain professor, whom I finally found. 
He told me that those of the girls who were not severely 
wounded had left for their native places. Only about 
thirty invalids remained. Five of these sufifercd from 
shell shock and were either hysterical or idiotic. Many 
of the others were nervous wrecks. He had tried hard 
to have them quartered in the Home for Invalids, but 
hardly had they got there when the building was requisi- 
tioned by the Bolsheviks and the inmates turned out into 
the streets. Vera Michailovna, a wealthy woman, had 
picked them up from the streets and sheltered them in 
her house, but just before my call she had telephoned to 
him that the Bolsheviks had requisitioned her own house, 
and she was in a quandary as to how to dispose of the 
girls. He concluded with the suggestion that both of us 
go over to Vera Michailovna. 

With a heavy heart I entered the large building in 
which my unfortunate girls, momentarily awaiting the 
word to get out, were kept. I came as a complete sur- 
prise to them. But there was no joy in my heart as I 
crossed the threshold of their room. It was not a happy 
re-union. I had no means with which to help them, no 
power, no influential friends. 

"The Natchalnik! Natchalnikr the women exclaimed 
joyously as soon as they perceived me, rushing toward me, 
throwing themselves upon my neck, kissing me, hugging 

324 yASHKA 

**Thc Natchalnik has cornel She will save us I She 
will get us money, bread, a home;!" 

They danced and pranced about me in a spirit of jubi- 
lation, making me feel even more bitter and miserable. 

"Girls dear I" I tried to disillusion them early, "I am 
myself penniless and hungry. You mustn't expect any 
help of me now." 

'^Nitchevol You know how to get everything I" they 
answered with confidence. *Tou will take us to fight the 
Bolsheviks as we fought the Germans 1" 

There was a conference between Vera Michailovna, the 
professor, and myself on the problem facing us. Vera 
Michailovna suggested that I take the girls with 
me to my home village. I rejected the idea at first, both 
because I did not intend to remain at Tutalsk but continue 
on to Vladivostok and because of my lack of funds. 

Vera Michailovna, however, insisted that the wisest 
thing in the circumstances would be to take them away 
from Moscow. She told me that several of the girls 
had been lured away and maltreated by the Bolshevik 
soldiers and that the result of leaving them in Mos- 
cow would be their ruin. She offered to provide tickets 
for them all to my village and a thousand rubles in 
ready money. I finally consented to take my invalids 
with me, hoping to obtain sufficient funds in America to 
insure them a life of peace and comfort. 

I had resolved to go to America, but I had no funds. 
As my destination was to be London, for the reasons 
mentioned, I thought of seeking assistance from the Brit- 
ish Consul in Moscow. With the aid of the Vasilievs I 
succeeded in locating the Consul's offices and went to see 
him. There were many people waiting to see the Consul, 
and I was informed that he could not be seen. His secre- 
tary came out and asked me for the purpose of my call. 
I gave him my name, told him of my plight and of my 


decision to go to London, to visit Mrs. Pankhurst, and 
asked for aid on the ground that I had fought and sacri- 
ficed much for the cause of Russia and the Allies. He 
reported my presence to the Consul, who received me al- 
most immediately. 

The Consul was very courteous. He met me with a 
smile and a cordial handshake, said that he had read in 
the. papers of my arrest at Zverevo and inquired what he 
could do for me. I showed him the document from the 
Soviet, but did not reveal to him the fact of my mission 
to Kornilov, adding: 

"Gospodin Consul, as you see, this paper allows me 
freedom of movement. I want to take advantage of it 
and go to London, to visit my friend, Mrs. Pankhurst. 
But I am without means. I came to ask you to send me, 
as a soldier, who had fought for the Allied cause, to 
England. If Russia should awake, I will eagerly resume 
my service to this cause." 

The Consul explained that the Bolsheviks would not 
allow him to draw on the Consulate's deposits in the 
banks but, in view of my circumstances, he could supplj 
me with some money for expenses. As to my visit to 
London, he said, there were great difficulties in the way, 
even for his own countrymen, let alone Russians. 

But I would not alter my mind, and persisted in beg- 
ging him to send me to his country. He promised to con- 
sider the matter and give a definite answer that night. 
He then invited me to dine with him at eight o'clock that 

When I returned for dinner the Consul informed me 
that he had already telegraphed to the British Consul at 
Vladivostok of my going to London by way of America, 
requesting him to aid me in every way he could. At 
dinner I told the Consul how Mrs. Pankhurst came to 

326 yASHKA 

know me, but kept to myself the real purpose of my trip, 
as I feared that the Consul would not want to antag- 
onize the Bolsheviks by extending his protection to me. 
He gave me five himdred rubles, and I decided to leave 
immediately. A Siberian Express was leaving at 12^.0 
the same night. I had a few hours left to get my girls 
started to the station and to bid farewell to the Vasilievs. 

My immediate destination was Tutalsk, on the Great 
Siberian Line. I was uneasy about the treatment our 
party might get from the soldiers filling three-quarters 
of the space on the train. But here again the mental 
transformation was obvious. The passengers discussed 
affairs sanely. There were many officers aboard but 
they were not molested. The soldiers were friendly to 
them and to us. The all-absorbing topic was the advance 
of the Germans. Lenine and Trotzky were cursed and 
denounced as despots worse even than the Tsar. There 
were many refugees from the newly invaded provinces 
and their tales added fuel to the mutinous spirit of the 

*'We were promised bread and land. Now the Ger- 
mans are taking both away." 

*'We wanted an end to the war but Lenine got us into 
a worse position than before." 

*'We went to the Bolshevist bureaus and told of our 
hunger, and they advised us to enlist in the Red Guard." 

"One can't find work; all the factories are shut down 
or disorganized." 

These and similar sentiments were expressed on every 
side. Underlying them all was a greater hatred for the 
Germans than ever. There was no question in my mind 
that those men were ready to follow any trusted leader, 
with arms and food, against the Germans. 

In Tcheliabinsk the train stopped for a couple of hours. 
There were two regiments stationed there* and there were 


several hundred soldiers aboard the express. A meeting 
was quickly organized right near the station, within a 
short distance of the place where I had been thrown off 
the train some three months previous. But how different 
was the mood of the masses now! There were thousands 
at the meeting. A refugee addressed the crowd* He 
made a stirring, sarcastic speech. 

"Every one of us," he began, "has something at stake 
in Russia. We all went to defend our country. We all 
made our sacrifices. For three years I fought in this war. 
Then I was set free to return home. But I found my 
home in the hands of the Germans. I could not return. 
I lost my parents, my wife, my sisters 1 What do I now 
get for all my sacrifices? 


"I came to Petrograd. For three days I went hungry. 
I was not alone. There were many other soldiers who 
suffered the same fate. They gave us no bread. What 
do we get to satisfy our needs ? 


"I went to see the chief of the Government in Petro- 
grad. But I was never admitted to him. I was nearly 
beaten to death and thrown out of the building. Why? 


"The Germans are taking everything they can and at 
the same time the Red Guard is being increased to fight — 
whom, the Germans ?! — no, the so-called bourgeoisie ! But 
are they not our own brethren, our own blood? In the 
name of what are we urged to slaughter our own people 
while the Germans ravish our land ? 

"In the name of Liberty ! 

"Our country has been disgraced and ruined and still 
we are being called upon to destroy our own educated 
and intelligent classes. 

"Is this Liberty? 


*1 hear 'that in Moscow a thousand invalids were 
thrown out into the street. These invalids are soldiers 
like yourselves and myself, only maimed and crippled for 
life. Why were they thrown out? 

"For the sake of Liberty 1" 

We were all deeply impressed by this speech of the 
soldier. Not a single voice was raised in protest. Every 
heart felt that the liberty we had received wa» not the 
kind of liberty we had dreamed about. We wanted peace, 
happiness, brotherhood, not civil war, foreign invasions, 
strife, starvation and disease. 

Another speaker said : 

**The comrade is right. We have been deceived and 
disgraced. We do go hungry and no one cares. But how 
can we get out of this shameful situation? We would 
have to overthrow the present leaders, and reestablish 
the front. The Japanese are already moving into Siberia, 
and the Germans are occupying Russia, all because we are 
divided. We will be under some foreign yoke if we don't 
get together. We quarreled with our officers, but how 
can we ever hope to do anything without officers? We 
might make peace with them, but where can we get arms 
to overthrow our present leaders, who have surrounded 
themselves with bands of Red Guards?" 

For a moment the vast gathering remained silent. It 
was a pathetic calm. Somehow one felt poignantly that 
our much-cherished freedom had turned into an oppressive 

Suddenly a couple of men raised their voices in pro- 
test, denouncing the speaker, even threatening him. They 
were promptly seized and placed under arrest, and quiet 
was restored. 

"Allow me to answer the question I" I shouted to the 
chairman from the distant place I occupied. 

"Botchkareva I It's Botchkareva I" a number of voices 


passed the word to the platform, and immediately I was 
picked up and carried to the speaker's stand. 

"It's a pleasure to speak to you now," I began, "only 
a few weeks ago you would have torn me to pieces." 

"Yes, It's true! We killed manyl" several men inter- 
rupted. "But we were told that the officers wanted to 
enslave us, that's why we killed them. We now see that 
our real enemies are not the officers, but the Germans." 

"Before I answer the question put by the preceding 
speaker, let me ask you what your attitude is toward the 
Allies," I said. 

"America, England and France we trust. They are 
our friends. They are free countries. But we distrust 
Japan. Japan wants Siberia," came in reply from many 

Here a soldier requested permission to ask a question. 
It was granted. 

"I can't understand why our Allies do not defend us," 
he said. "Not one of them has come to our succor at 
a time when Germany is eating us up. The Allied envoys 
are running away from Russia, and those that remain do 
not listen to the voice of the masses, but to the repre- 
sentatives of Lenine and Trotzky. At Moscow I saw 
an official of the Soviet escort an Englishman to a train. 
I was hungry. There were hundreds of soldiers like me 
at the station. Our hearts were aching. We wanted to 
give him a message, but he did not even turn to us. In- 
stead, he pressed heartily the hand of the Soviet official." 

"What if we should appeal to the Allies, to America, 
England and France, to furnish us bread, arms and money 
for the reconstruction of the front?" I resumed. 

"How can we trust them?" I was interrupted again. 
"They will come here and work together with Lenine 
and his band of bloodsuckers." 

"Why not get together and elect a Constituent Assem- 


bly, and let your own leaders cooperate with the Allies?" 
I suggested. 

"But whom could we choose?'* 

"That we would decide later. There are plenty of 
good men still left in Russia," I answered. "But what 
if I, for instance, should want to do something, would 
you trust me ?" 

"Yes, yes I We know you I You are of the people I" 
hundreds of throats cried. 

"Well, let me tell you then, I am going to America and 
England. If I should get through and come bade with 
an Allied force, would you come to aid me in saving 

"Yes! We will I Yes, yes I" the crowd roared. 

With this the meeting ended. The train was made- 
up and we hurried toward it, singing on the way. I felt 
happy and hopeful. Several thousand soldiers were not 
to be disregarded. They were almost unanimous in their 
new view of the country's condition. With my observa- 
tions in Moscow and on the way to Petrograd, this meet- 
ing added enthusiasm to my hopes for Russia's salvation. 
It was obviously a country-wide phenomenon, this awak- 
ening of the soldiery. 

My mother had received Petrukhin's letter, and for six 
weeks had mourned me as dead. She was overwhelmed 
with joy upon my return, but became a little uneasy as she 
perceived a long line of girls, many of them almost bare- 
foot, file behind me into the little cabin. She took me 
aside and asked what it meant, confiding that she had only 
fifty rubles left of the money I had given her before. I 
begged her to be patient and assured her that I would 
arrange matters promptly. I immediately went to the 
owner of the cabin and several other leading peasants 
of the community, got them together, explained to them 
the situation, informed them that I had only one thousand 


rubles to spend toward the support of the girls, and asked 
if they would undertake to feed and house them on credit 
till my return from America. 

"I swear that I will pay every kopeck due to you. I 
will get enough money to pay not only the debts, but to 
insure for them sustenance and shelter to the end of their, 
lives. Now I want you to keep a record of all your 
expenses. Will you trust me?" 

"Yes," replied the peasants. "We know that you have 
done a great deal for Russia, and we have confidence in 

This was the arrangement under which the thirty in- 
valids of my Battalion of Death were left by me in the 
village of Tutalsk in March, 191 8. The thousand rubles 
I gave to my mother with instructions to buy shoes for 
the neediest of the girls. Of the five hundred rubles given 
to me by the Consul, I left three hundred to my mother. 
I decided to take my youngest sister, Nadia, along with 
me to America. Accompanied to the station by my par- 
ents, the thirty girls, and half the community, I started 
eastward, for Irkutsk and Vladivostok, dressed once 
mor? as a woman. 

At the station in Irkutsk I noticed a young girl, with 
two tiny children in her arms. Somehow her face looked 
familiar to me, but I could not place her. She was evi- 
dently in trouble, poor and ragged. For a while she 
stared at me. Then she ran up and cried out breath- 
lessly : 


She was the younger daughter of the woman Kitova 
who accompanied her husband, who had killed the dog- 
catcher, into exile when I went there with Yasha. Then 
she was not more than eleven or twelve years old. Now 
she was the mother of two children. 

For three days, she told me, her mother and herself 


lived on the floor of the station. They had only seventy 
kopecks left in their possession. With this money the 
mother had gone to the town to find a lodging! More 
than three months they had been traveling from Yakutsk, 
where this girl had been married to a political. All the 
money in my purse was two hundred rubles. I gave forty 
and then another twenty to the poor girl. 

While I was cuddling one of the two babies, a com- 
missary approached me. 

"Are you Botchkareva ?" he asked. 

"Yes," I answered. 

He wanted to detain me, but several soldiers who had 
traveled on the same train with me hurried to my de- 
fense. There was a hot argument. I drew out my pass 
from the Soviet and claimed the freedom to go wherever 
I pleased. I was finally left alone. 

I waited for the return of the old Kitova to the last 
minute, desiring to see her and especially to learn about 
Yasha and other friends in North Siberia. Her daughter 
could only tell me that Yajsha had married, after the 
native fashion, a Yakut woman and was still in Amga 
when she last heard. . . . 

We resumed the journey eastward. At Khabarovsk, 
seven hundred versts from Vladivostok, we changed 
trains and had to accommodate ourselves for the night at 
the station in the women's rest-room. When I was about 
to turn in, the door opened and a voice behind me called 
out sharply : 

"Commander Botchkareva ?" 

"Yes," I replied, alarmed at this form of address. 

"Are you going to England?" was the next question. 


"Where, then, are you going?" 

"To Valdivostok, to stay with relatives." 

The commissary then demanded my baggage for a 


search. He found a letter from the Moscow Consul to 
his Vladivostok colleague. I explained that the Consul 
had supported me in Moscow and now asked the English 
representative at Vladivostok to help me out also. The 
commissary told me whisperingly that he was only fulfill- 
ing orders, but did not sympathize any longer with Le- 
nine's regime. He had left four soldiers outside of the 
room in order to facilitate matters for me. His eyes 
fell on a photograph of mine in the trunk, which showed 
me in full uniform and was the last copy in my possession. 
He asked for it and my autograph, and to win his favor 
I gave it to him without delay. He then advised me to 
conceal the letter from the Consul, and I sent it through 
Nadia to Ivanov, one of my fellow travelers outside. 
One of these was a member of a provincial Soviet, an ex- 
Bolshevik. He and other soldiers aided me while aboard 
the train to evade the Red Guards who searched it 
daily, at various stations, for officers going to join Gen- 
eral Semenov. More than once I was covered under their 
overcoats in an emergency. When the searchers asked: 

"Who's there?" 

"A sick comrade," would be the answer, and the Red 
Guards passed on. 

The commissary had orders to take me to town and 
hold me. Convoyed by the four Guards, Nadia and I 
were taken to the police-station. I was locked up while 
the commissary went to call a meeting of the local Soviet. 
Nadia remained outside of the cell, and I suddenly heard 
her cry for help. Rushing to the door, I saw through the 
key-hole that the Red Guards were annoying her. I 
banged at the door, shouting to the rascals to leave her 
alone, appealing to their sense of shame, but they jeered 
and kept pestering her. My helplessness behind the 
locked door infuriated me. I don't like to think of what 
the ruffians would have done to Nadia had not my friend 


Ivanov come in with two other soldiers to plead for mc. 

They found Nadia crying and me banging at the door 
in a white rage. I told them of the behavior of the four 
Red Guards toward my sister and a sharp quarrel en- 
sued. Presently the chairman of the local Soviet and a 
majority of its members arrived. My case was taken up. 
It appeared that orders had been received from Moscow 
or Irkutsk to detain me. As the search had netted nothing 
incriminating against me, my claim that I was going to 
Vladivostok could not be refuted. 

Ivanov and the two soldiers put up a valiant defense, 
arguing that I was a sick woman, that they had come to 
know me during our companionship on the train as a real 
friend of the people, and that it would be a disgrace to 
arrest me and send me back with no evidence against me. 
If not for these three defenders, I would in all probability 
have been despatched under convoy to Moscow or Tu- 
talsk. With their aid, I was able to make such a favor- 
able impression on the Khabarovsk Soviet that I was per- 
mitted to proceed to Vladivostok, where I arrived early 
in April, 191 8, with five rubles and seventy kopecks in my 

The Soviet in Valdivostok kept a very close watch 
over all arrivals and departures. As soon as Nadia and 
I reached a lodging house, our documents were demanded 
to be sent to the Soviet for inspection. Nadia had a 
regular passport, while I made use of the paper from 
the Moscow Soldiers' Section. It is usual for such docu- 
ments to be returned to their owners with the stamp of 
the local Soviet on their backs. But ours were somehow 
slow in arriving — not a good omen. 

I went to the English Consul and was received in his 
office by an elderly Russian Colonel, who served there in 
the capacity of secretarial interpreter. He recognized 
me at once, as a telegram from Moscow announcing my 


coming had preceded me. The Consul was very kind 
and cordial when I was shown into his study, but declared 
that his position was such that he could not take it upon 
himself to obtain a passport for me from the Soviet, as 
he was suspected of counter-revolutionary activities. 

Without revealing to the Consul the real purpose of 
my trip, I explained to him that my journey to London 
was undertaken not merely as a social visit to Mrs. Pank- 
hurst, but as an avenue of escape from the terror of 'Bol- 
shevism, which made life for me perilous anywhere in 
Russia. He advised me to go to the local Soviet, tell 
there of my desire to go to Mrs. Pankhurst, of whom the 
Bolsheviks had certainly heard, and ask for passports. 
The Consul thought that the Soviet could find nothing 
dangerous about my journey to his country, and would 
allow me to proceed unmolested. I replied with an ac- 
count of some of the things I had endured at the hands 
of Lenine's government and said I was very certain that 
my formal application for a passport would be the end of 
my venture. He then called up the American Consul at 
Vladivostok, informed him of my arrival and my plight, 
and enlisted his interest. 

I returned to the hotel, with three hundred rubles given 
me by the Consul in my purse. The place was dirty and 
without conveniences, but it was almost impossible to ob- 
tain decent accommodations in the city. However, the 
proprietor of the inn was very helpful and later saved me 
from trouble. 

The following day the Consul told me that all efforts to 
win the good-will of the Soviet toward me not only failed, 
1)ut were met with threats at my address. The Bolsheviks 
might even send me back, I learned. I redoubled my plea 
to the Consul to send me away, even without the Soviet's 
passport. He would not promise to do so, but under the 


pr^sure of my appeals finally showed an inclination to 
consider the matter. 

Upon leaving the Consulate I was stopped in the street 
by a soldier. 

"Botchkareva ?" he asked. 

"Yes," I answered. 

"Why did you come here to tramp the streets?" was 
the next question. 

"I came to visit my relatives, but found that they had 
moved, so I am going back soon." 

He let me go my way. As soon as I arrived at the hotel, 
the proprietor took me aside to tell me that representa- 
tives of the Soviet had called in my absence, and inquired 
as to my doings and my plans. He had informed them 
that I came to look up some relatives, but was unable to 
locate them. They left with the threat that they would 
return to arrest me. It was not in my plan to wait for their 
arrival and allow myself to be detained and sent back. I 
called up the Consul and told him of the latest develop- 
ment. Fortunately, he had some good news for me. An 
American transport was to touch at Vladivostok two days 
later I 

Nadia and I hurried to the Consulate. The Consul 
declared that the Bolsheviks had threatened him if he 
should be found aiding me to get away. Meanwhile he 
proceeded to have all the necessary foreign passports pre- 
pared for us, and we were photographed for that purpose. 
The difficulty of leaving Vladivostok without a pass from 
the Soviet still confronted us. The harbor was under 
strict control, and the boats used to ferry passengers from 
the shore to the steamships were manned and inspected 
by Bolsheviks. 

For nearly two days I remained in my room, in con- 
stant dread of the appearance of Red Guards to arrest 
me. They did not come, however, apparently sure that 


I could not escape their net anyway. They had ample 
reason afterwards to change their minds about it. I {hen 
went to the Consul again. The American transport Sher^ 
idan was due that night, he said, but he was not sure yet 
if the Captain would be willing to take me on. 

Meanwhile we sought a means to elude the inspectors 
at the port. A large traveling basket was tried, and I 
managed to accommodate myself in it, but the Consul 
decided that I might be suffocated should the basket be 
left at the pier for a couple of hours. I got out of the 

The transport arrived in the evening and the Captain 
expressed his willingness to carry me across the Pacific. 
At the request of the Consul I remained in his house while 
my sister, accompanied by an officer, went to the hotel to 
get my things, and with them left for the vessel. Two 
hours later I called up the hotel to find out whether Nadia 
had been there with the officer. The proprietor informed 
me that about fifty Red Guards had just been there look- 
ing for me, and were painfully surprised to learn that I 
had departed. 

"Where did she go?" they asked the proprietor. 

"To the railroad station, to take a train," he lied. 

"What train?" they shouted indignantly. "There are 
no trains leaving to-night." With that they went away, 
presumably to search for me. 

I communicated to the Consul what I had learned on 
the wire, and he hid me in a closet. Soon afterwards 
several Red Guards arrived, asking for Botchkareva. 
The Consul denied knowledge of my whereabouts, de- 
clared that I had come to him only once, as a result of 
which he had applied to the Soviet for a passport for me, 
but since he was refused he washed his hands of my case. 
The Red Guards said that I had been observed entering 
the Consulate, but was not seen leaving it. They looked 


about for me and left, after the Consul's denial of my 

The officer returned, after taking Nadia aboard 
the transport, with the news that I would have company 
on the way, as eight Russian officers were to be passengers 
on the same vessel. Hundreds of Russian officers had 
arrived in Vladivostok in the belief that they could join 
the British army there and be transported to France. Un- 
fortunately the Allies would not accept their services and 
they found themselves in troubled circumstances, with- 
out means to return to European Russia and with no de- 
sire to do so, as long as Bolshevism was still rampant 
there. Some of them succeeded by various means in 
going to the United States or Canada. 

The Colonel asked me if I wanted to meet my fellow- 
travelers. I answered in the affirmative, and as they were 
at the moment at the Consulate, he took me into the room 
in which they were waiting. Scarcely had I crossed the 
threshold, when, glancing at the small group of officers, 
my eyes suddenly fell on Leonid Grigorievitch Filippov, 
my former battle adjutant, who had carried me uncon- 
scious under German fire to safety in that unhappy ad- 
vance of the Battalion. 

"What are you doing here?" both of us asked each 
other simultaneously, astonished at the unexpected meet- 

I had always felt that I owed my life to Lieutenant 
Filippov after I was shocked by a shell and contused when 
running from the enemy at the end of the abortive of- 
fensive launched by the Battalion. He had taken charge 
of the Battalion upon my despatch to the Petrograd hos- 
pital, and later left for Odessa to train as an aviator. 

From a short private conversation I learned that Lieu- 
tenant Filippov was in the same plight as all the other 
officers who had come to Vladivostok under the impres-